Public Safety supports a non-traditional 2021 Commencement Weekend

June 17, 2021

This year’s commencement looked and felt different. Held over four days instead of three, smaller graduation events were carefully organized with an eye toward campus and public safety, as Yale, like the rest of the nation, slowly emerges from the pandemic. Each in-person event was limited to graduating students only; family members and friends were invited to watch ceremonies via live stream.

Rather than hosting the traditional combined Old Campus gathering for all graduates from Yale College, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and the 12 professional schools, separate, abbreviated ceremonies were held across campus. These were quieter and more closely guarded but just as joyous for the 3,595 graduates.

Yale Police and Security always have a presence during commencement. This year because of COIVD restrictions, coverage was different. The two main commencement venues at Old Campus and From left to right: Ronnie Williams, Tom Murray, Gary Mayes, Michael Sasser, Tyler Willis . Eileen Vitale and Adrian Pate of Yale Public Safety.

Amistad Park had a 24/7 security presence for a week. The security officers kept watch over the temporary staging, tent, and chairs. Typically, on Old Campus, 18,000 chairs are set up; this year, there were only about 500, all 6 feet apart.

The Yale Police (YPD) kept the streets open during these smaller processions, but periodically closed them in line with thso the graduates had a safe passage to and from the ceremony areas. Yale Security guards covered all six entryways on Old Campus and four at Amistad Park to ensure only the students and limited staff and faculty entered before, during, and after the ceremonies. “It was all hands on deck for these events. Most of our officers and managers work double shifts during commencement weekend. Everyone did a great job, and the students looked happy,” said Daniel Killen, Associate Director for Yale Security.

In the past, two YPD Honor Guard members would lead the main procession to Old Campus. But with the many Yale Security Manager Bob Cervone has worked during 27 Commencement ceremonies! The 2021 ceremony was his last he is retiring in the fall.

smaller events taking place across campus, that didn’t happen. Still, the police were there daily to sweep, with detection dogs, the buildings and areas around and within the ceremony areas. Heidi, the YPD Service dog was invited to many of the ceremonies. Eleven dogs were used throughout the 4-day event, including two YPD dogs and the rest from the Hartford, Stamford, and New Haven Police departments and the Connecticut State Police. “Our Emergency Services Unit, did protective sweeps every day of all ceremony locations, to ensure all venues were safe,” said YPD Captain Von Narcisse.

Besides the two larger venues, smaller ceremonies were held at the Yale Law School, Yale School of Management, Yale Divinity School, and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. While the atmosphere was quieter than usual, enthusiasm built with each day. The traditional residential college chants could be heard, and parents and visitors gladly abided by the restrictions. “I was Phelps Gate and kept telling parents I was sorry they couldn’t go in. They were fantastic saying they understood, and of course, the students were beaming,” said Bob Cervone, Security Manager.

While the events and celebrations continued without interruption under clear, blue skies, everyone hopes for a normal Commencement Weekend in 2022. “This was a unique event, and it went well. But I think the Yale Community wants its traditional ceremony back. Fingers crossed for 2022,” said Captain Narcisse.