News & Politics

What Will DC-Area Graduations Look Like for the Class of 2021?

There are different commencement ceremony rules in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Georgetown University.

Last spring’s graduations occurred when the DC-area was shut down, but this year’s commencement events are arriving just as the region begins to open back up. Still, Covid-era rules remain—and are different in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Here’s the current status:


Beginning on March 22, mass gatherings can expand to up to 50 people outdoors and up to ten people indoors. Indoor and outdoor capacities will be reassessed in April.

The state of DC Public School graduations are still uncertain. In a statement to Washingtonian, DCPS writes: “DCPS is actively exploring the possibility of celebrating our graduates safely in-person, pending health conditions. Any decision to hold in-person ceremonies will be made in coordination with the Mayor’s office and DC Health.”

Higher education institutions are taking a hybrid approach. George Washington University is planning a virtual commencement in May, while American University is opting for both a virtual celebration and the possibility of an in-person event—if DC rules allow for it. For the time being, Georgetown University and Howard University are keeping their plans open-ended.


Starting last week, Governor Larry Hogan opened indoor and outdoor venues in Maryland to 50 percent capacity. Thus, some public school systems are opting to hold in-person graduations—with contingency plans in place.

Montgomery County Public Schools plans to host events at indoor locations such as DAR Constitution Hall and University of Maryland Baltimore County. However, final decisions on the matter will be rendered by April 15. The district has already established a “Plan B”—hold the ceremony at each school’s outdoor football stadiums. And a “Plan C”—reverting to a fully-virtual celebration. Meanwhile, the Howard County Public School System is slated to hold high school graduations at Merriweather Post Pavilion, the still-closed concert venue in Columbia.

The University of Maryland is still making a decision on whether to hold an in-person graduation for the class of 2021. Currently, each of the university’s individual schools and colleges will hold virtual events.


Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that schools and colleges in Virginia will be allowed to host outdoor commencement ceremonies with up to 5,000 people or 30 percent of a location’s capacity. Additionally, indoor ceremonies will also be allowed to occur with up to 500 people or 30 percent capacity—whichever is less.

Masks will be required, and graduates shouldn’t expect to shake hands with any deans as social-distancing guidelines are still in place. Some schools are still opting to go digital. Despite the new rules, George Mason University in Fairfax is still banking on  a virtual commencement ceremony.



Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.