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Record number - 9,435 - of students prepare to graduate during May 20-22 ceremonies at Golden 1 Center

These graduates, celebrating in 2019, were among the last to enjoy a formal Sac State Commencement before the pandemic. That opportunity for celebration returns with 2022 Commencement, May 20-22 at Golden 1 Center. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Cue the live speeches, cheering crowds, and tossing of mortarboards.

The pomp of formal Commencement is back for Sacramento State graduates after two years during which the COVID-19 pandemic upended traditional ceremonies.

Over three days, May 20-22, a record 9,435 graduates are scheduled to cross the Golden 1 Center stage to accept their diplomas and celebrate their accomplishments in front of proud friends and family.

graduation ballons
Another festive scene is anticipated for Sac State's 2022 Commencement. (Sacramento State/Hratch Avetisyan)

Sac State’s last formal in-person Commencement was in May 2019, before COVID-19 caused wide societal disruptions limiting or prohibiting large gatherings. The University held a virtual celebration for 2020 grads and last year hosted CARmencement, a festive drive-through campus parade for graduates from Fall 2019 through Summer 2021 class sessions.

The year’s Commencement is for graduates from Fall 2021, Spring 2022, and Summer 2022.

“We are incredibly proud of our graduates, each and every one of them,” President Robert S. Nelsen said. “They have overcome unbelievable obstacles. We are back, and we will be together at Golden 1 Center again, the true Hornet Family.”

Despite the disruptions of the pandemic, Sac State has managed a stable enrollment and a rising graduation rate for students of all backgrounds. The University has seen its four-year graduation rate climb to 26%, a significant increase from about 9% in 2016.

After two difficult years marked by the coronavirus, “it’s important for us to take part in the rituals that we look forward to at Commencement, and to tie a bow around all of the hard work and achievements,” said Sarah Billingsley, Nelsen’s chief of staff.

Activity begin at 8 a.m. May 20 with the ceremony for College of Business graduates. Graduates from the colleges of Engineering and Computer Science, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics will celebrated beginning at 1:30 p.m.; and the ceremony for College of Arts and Letters grads starts at 7 p.m.

On May 21, ceremonies will feature part of the College of Health and Human Services at 8 a.m. A second group from that college will join grads from the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies in the 1 p.m. session. At 6 p.m., a second group of SSIS graduates will commence.

Ceremonies conclude May 22, when graduates of the College of Education receive their diplomas beginning at 8 a.m.

Grad and Nelsen
Scenes of graduates accepting congratulations from President Robert S. Nelsen, such as this image from 2019, again will brighten Golden 1 Center, site of Sac State's 2022 Commencement. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

To avoid staging graduates in the close confines of arena concourses, where they have traditionally gathered before processing, graduates will enter the arena floor shortly after their arrival and not en masse. Once there, they will be treated to music, games, and giveaways for an hour before their ceremony begins.

Face coverings and proof of vaccination no longer are required to enter Golden 1 Center, but the California Department of Public Health strongly recommends that people attending large indoor events wear masks. Hand sanitizing stations and disposable masks will be available throughout the venue.

For people unable to attend, ceremonies will stream on Sac State’s live events page beginning at each college’s start time.

Billingsley said planning for this year’s Commencement began in late 2020.

“These events take more than a year to put together and at least six months of really intensive work,” she said. The pandemic added an extra layer of complexity to the process.

University event planners must consider “venue logistics, organizing hundreds of volunteers, tickets, software for procuring tickets, parking, seating layout, security,” and many other details, she said. A “veil of uncertainty” caused by COVID-19 complicated the process.

“Our team does an amazing job,” Billingsley said, noting growing anticipation as the University’s signature event nears.

“We finally can breathe a collective sigh of relief and feel gratitude and joy that we are able to be together again.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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