Student carrying the UR mace

Commencement traditions offer a chance to celebrate and reflect

May 8, 2023

Student Experience

Candlelight Ceremony

The Candlelight Ceremony, one of the University’s longest-standing traditions, is the last time the senior class comes together before graduation. At 10 p.m. the night before Commencement, each graduate is given a candle as they line the banks of Westhampton Lake. A student is selected to give remarks; this year, business student Alejandra De Leon was honored with the task. The night ends with the class singing the alma mater while fireworks launch over the lake.

“It’s part reflection, part celebratory revelry,” says Andy Gurka, director of student involvement. “Being around the lake is so meaningful and iconic, and it gives students the opportunity to reflect on the last four years and to celebrate their accomplishments.”

Grad Walk

For seniors, every corner of campus can hold memories of their time at Richmond. The Grad Walk encourages graduates to relive those moments while winding their way to Commencement.

The route begins at Gateway Village, continues alongside Gottwald and through the Forum, crosses the lake, proceeds in front of the Humanities Building and Jepson Hall, crosses the International Center, and ends at the Robins Center. The path passes a number of campus icons, offering plenty of photo ops for seniors in their caps and gowns.

Class banners

On the first day of orientation, at the president’s welcome, the entering class is presented with a white banner with their graduation year. Every student signs their name, and the banner hangs in the Commons for the next four years. The banner is carried by outgoing Westhampton College and Richmond College student government presidents — this year, Penny Hu and Joseph Coyle — as part of the Commencement processional.

After graduation, the banner is retired until the class reconvenes for reunion.

Mace carrier

Leading the procession of the president, administrators, faculty, and graduates is the most outstanding student, who carries the University Mace.  

The Mace Award is the highest honor given to a graduate and recognizes exceptional scholarly achievement. This year’s recipient is Harry Dang, who majored in biochemistry and molecular biology with minors in mathematics and physics. In addition to his strengths in the classroom, Dang is a researcher in chemistry professor Michael Leopold’s materials science lab. Dang is a Richmond, Beckman, and Goldwater Scholar, and plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D.

Lavender Graduation

The Student Center for Equity and Inclusion hosts Lavender Graduation to honor and celebrate LGBTQ+ graduates, students, faculty, and staff.

The first Lavender Graduation was held in 1995, and today, more than 200 universities around the country hold a similar ceremony. Richmond added its own take this year by combining the event with the first-of-its-kind Rainbow Prom. The night began with speeches, performances, awards, and a cording ceremony, followed by a community celebration on the dance floor.

Faculty greeting

After graduation, faculty hurry outside, waiting for seniors on the lawn next to the Robins Center to meet families and take photos. Chemistry professor Wade Downey helped organize a meetup of students starting in 2008, and now many other faculty gather in the same area. Each year, hundreds of photos are taken of students and their families with UR professors.