General Commencement Information (also reachable through

2020 Commencement Ceremonies, for the 271st year in the life of the university

The 165th Commencement ceremony for the Washington and Lee University School of Law will be held on Friday, May 8, at 10:00 a.m., and the 233rd undergraduate Commencement will be held on Thursday, May 28, at 10:00 a.m. There is also an undergraduate Baccalaureate Service on Wednesday, May 27, at 10 a.m. All ceremonies will be held on the Front Lawn of the main campus, between the Colonnade and Lee Chapel (plans in case of inclement weather will be announced early the day of the ceremony). See also the Schedule of Events. [top]


Personalized Commencement announcements may be ordered from Balfour for the undergraduate Commencement at the Undergraduate Grad Fair. Announcements for the law Commencement may be ordered from Balfour at the Law Grad Fair. Both Undergraduate and Law Graduation announcements can also be ordered through the W&L Store Web Site: STORE.WLU.EDU[top]

Caps and Gowns

Graduating seniors must attend in approved regalia, with no unapproved adornment. The cost is $50 for undergraduate seniors who wish to be fitted with a cap and gown, which may be kept after the ceremony. The regalia is produced with "green" material. The Grad Fair is the only opportunity to order undergraduate caps and gowns from Oak Hall. Caps and gowns for undergraduates may be picked up on Tuesday, May 26, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Elrod University Commons, Room 114.

Law-student regalia is provided through Balfour, including tams, gowns, tassels, and hoods, through the University Store. With the exception of the tam and tassel, these must be returned at the end of the ceremony to the Elrod University Commons. Measurements for law academic regalia will take place at the Law Grad Fair. [top]


During the Commencement ceremony, students receive top-quality parchment diplomas at no additional charge. The diploma order is submitted no later than March 1, after which changes to names or other diploma details will incur a reprint fee charged to the student account. After Commencement, students also receive official, secure, and verifiable certified electronic diplomas at no additional charge. [top]

Disability Accommodations

W&L provides sign-language interpreters for both Commencement ceremonies. Service dogs and family members in wheelchairs are welcome. While W&L does not provide wheelechairs or other mobility equipment, Lexington Prescription Center (540.463.9166) is a local source for wheelchair rentals. Guests who have special needs in order to enjoy the ceremonies, including special seating in view of the interpreters, should contact either Maryanne Simurda, University Marshal, by email ( or telephone (540.458.8897) or Ethan Kipnes, Director of Public Safety, by email ( or telephone (540.458.8427). See also Parking.  [top]


Graduates must attend in approved regalia, with no unapproved adornment such as cords, flowers, etc. Guests are advised to dress comfortably. The weather in Lexington during May is often warm and humid. If ceremonies are held outside, most seating will be on the beautiful, sunny, and gently sloping Colonnade in front of Lee Chapel, facing toward the sun, so comfortable shoes, light clothing, hats, and sunglasses will be useful. In the case of inclement weather, the Law School commencement exercises will be moved indoors to W&L's Duchossois Tennis Center. The "DTC" is not air-conditioned and has very limited restroom facilities. The undergraduate Baccalaureate and Commencement would be held at Cameron Hall Gymnasium on the campus of Virginia Military Institute. Cameron Hall is air-conditioned and has individual, padded, stadium seating. [top]


Law Commencement Exercises are expected to be completed by 11:15 a.m. The Undergraduate Baccalaureate Service usually ends shortly after 11:00 a.m. The Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony is expected to end by 12:15 p.m. [top]

First Aid / Cooling Station

The Student Health staff is available in Newcomb Hall at the left end of the Colonnade to assist those who need minor first aid or are becoming overheated. Remote viewing of the Commencement exercises is available. The Student Health staff are also able to contact a local rescue squad who are standing by in case of a medical emergency. [top]


Diploma frames -- all featuring archival quality mats embossed in gold or a medallion with the University coat of arms and name -- are available from the University Store in a variety of styles. The University Store also offers an exclusive diploma-frame design which incorporates a panoramic sepia photo of the Colonnade. All diploma frames will be available for purchase at a five-percent discount ONLY during the Law Grad Fair  and the Undergraduate Grad Fair.

The University Store also offers special photo frames matted with gold and embossed with the W&L coat of arms and name suitable for holding the diploma-presentation photograph (see Photographs below). These frames will also be available at a discount ONLY during the respective Grad Fairs. [top]

Gifts for the Graduate

A large selection of exclusive gifts to celebrate the Washington and Lee experience is available in the University Store and on its website: the W&L armchair or rocker, lamp, a selection of fine framed art depicting W&L, quality embossed leather briefcases and computer cases, time pieces, writing instruments, and apparel, all subtly enhanced with the W&L or W&L Law official mark. Many of these items can be personalized with the graduate's name and class year. For details, please contact K.C. Schaefer, Store Director, at The University Store will wrap your gift of choice at no additional charge to commemorate this special day. [top]

Grad Fair

  • The Undergraduate Grad Fair is scheduled for Elrod Commons Atrium, March 11-13, 10 am to 5 pm.
  • The Law Grad Fair is scheduled for the Lewis Hall Moot Court Lobby, February 11-12, 10 am to 2 pm.


Parking for commencement exercises is available in the parking deck located off Nelson Street and East Denny Circle behind the gymnasium complex. The Front Lawn is a short walk from the parking deck. The campus map is available here.

Washington and Lee provides other convenient access to the law and undergraduate commencement exercises and the undergraduate baccalaureate service for all those who are able to walk only short distances, who have difficulty climbing steps, who use a wheelchair, or who otherwise need special assistance. Please inform your parents and families that the university provides special parking and transportation for the Commencement and undergraduate Baccalaureate ceremonies for those guests who are handicapped or have special health concerns.

We designate the Lee Chapel Visitors lot on Jefferson Street and Washington Street from Lee Avenue to Nelson Street as Handicapped and Special Needs parking. These areas will be closed to all others. Please advise your families that this parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis, so they need to plan arrival times accordingly. We also will have a golf cart available to transport special-needs guests to the ceremonies from those areas. When these areas fill, guests may drop off their special-needs guests near the President's house on Washington Street and they can still be transported to the ceremony.

Access to the Elrod University Commons or to the rain-plan site for law commencement at Warner Center may be granted to individuals through the underground entrance. If undergraduate Baccalaureate or Commencement uses VMI's Cameron Hall for the rain site, buses will be available to transport guests from the back-campus and parking deck, because on-street parking is limited in the vicinity of VMI's Cameron Hall. To request assistance, please contact Ethan Kipnes, Director of Public Safety, by email ( or phone (540-458-8427), or Maryanne Simurda, University Marshal, by e-mail ( or phone (540-458-8897). [top]

Photographs and Videos


Class pictures are scheduled prior to Commencement at times and locations noted in the Schedule of Events. A "Class of ..." banner will be set up on the Colonnade for individuals, families and other groups who may want a photo. There are a few spots near the line-up area and along the procession route which might be of interest as well. [top]

Amateur photographers are asked to be aware of and respect others taking pictures, including the university's photographers. Space and line-of-sight limitations prevent us from accommodating tripods near the stage during the ceremony.

Graduates receiving law degrees or undergraduate degrees from The College cross the stage from right to left facing Lee Chapel, so guests may find the best vantage point to the left of the stage facing the chapel. Graduates receiving degrees for work in the Williams School cross the stage from left to right facing the chapel, so guests may find the best vantage point to the right of the stage facing the chapel.

Individual still photographs are taken of each graduate by a University-approved vendor, Photo Specialties, which captures the special moments of graduation ceremonies. Photo Specialties will send proofs of each graduate's photograph(s) to them via email and US mail within two weeks after the ceremony. Official Washington and Lee frames for these and other photographs are available in the University Store. For additional information about individual still photography or photo frames, please contact the University Store at or 540-458-8633.


The ceremonies are also streamed live to the Web or "smart" devices from This year, DVDs will not be availble for purchase, but an HD digital video of the ceremony will be availble for free download. Questions can be addressed to the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, by e-mail at or by phone at 540-458-8954. [top]

Printed Programs

A limited number of extra printed programs are available at the entrances to seating areas. [top]

Procession and Tradition

Line-up instructions

Coat-of-arms and Banners

In 1890, at the request of Leslie Lyle Campbell, Class of 1887, Professor W. G. Brown designed a white silk banner bearing the words Washington and Lee University embroidered in gold letters on a blue scroll. Below the scroll was a composite shield made up of heraldic elements from the coats-of-arms of the Washington family and the Lee family. The shield has survived the years, but the original banner has not. Before 1903, Professor Brown designed a full coat-of-arms with crest and motto. The black raven rising out of the golden ducal coronet comes from the Washington crest. The upper left quarter of the arms depicts an open book with an injunction from I Thessalonians to "test all things." The upper right quarter exhibits the arms of Washington of Sulgrave, and the lower left quarter the arms of Lee of Coton. The arms in the lower right quarter are those of Astley of Staffordshire, and signify a marriage between the Lee and the Astley families. The motto, non incautus futuri, based on a phrase from Horace’s Satires and translated "not unmindful of the future," comes from the Lee family arms.

In 1998, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of W&L's founding, David D. Brown, Law School Class of 2000, designed four banners that draw upon the original heraldic design of 1890. The new University banner is a revised version of the design by Professor W. G. Brown. The banners for The College, the Ernest Williams II School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, and the School of Law derive their separate designs from the university banner.


A mace is a ceremonial staff and a symbol of authority. The mace is used to denote that the university is in session. It was designed in 1951 by Marion Junkin, Class of 1927 and Head of the Department of Fine Arts, and carved by Mary Barclay, a member of the staff of the Alumni Office, from a 150-year-old walnut beam taken from the old Lexington firehouse. The university coat-of-arms is carved on opposite sides of the urn-shaped head and painted silver, blue, red, and gold. Below the arms are the scroll and the motto. Atop the mace are the coronet and raven from the university coat of arms.

Academic Costume

In the procession of the Faculty, guests will see a variety of academic costumes. The design of the gowns has evolved over centuries from medieval origins. Most of the regalia seen during the ceremonies represent the Doctor of Philosophy degree or the Juris Doctor. Traditionally, the doctoral gown is black, has full sleeves gathered at the wrists, velvet bars on the sleeves and velvet panels on the front. The colors on the hood, which is worn around the shoulders, designate both the academic discipline of the degree earned by the wearer and the university that awarded it. The gold tassel on the hat is another sign that the wearer holds a doctoral degree. Over the years some universities have adopted gowns in colors that complement their hoods.


International flags are displayed at university events to represent the home countries of students. In addition to the flag of the United States of America, the flags of the following countries have been displayed in the last four years: Afghanistan, Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, German Federal Republic, Ghana, Greece, Haiti, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Paraguay, People's Republic of China, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Republic of China (Taiwan), Republic of South Korea, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Union of Myanmar, United Kingdom, United Republic of Cameroon, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. [top]

Rain Plan

Though we expect the weather to be warm and dry, if the ground in front of Lee Chapel is saturated or if rain (not drizzle) is falling -- and only as a last resort -- undergraduate ceremonies will be held at an indoor facility, VMI's Cameron Hall gymnasium on North Main Street. (It is the only facility in the area which can accommodate the 4,500 people who usually attend.) See the Inclement Weather page for more information. Law Commencement would be held in W&L's Warner Center gymnasium. [top]

Remote Viewing

For the undergraduate commencement ceremony, air-conditioned, remote viewing of the Commencement exercises is available in the first aid/cooling station area of Newcomb Hall and in the Leyburn Smart Zone on the main floor of Leyburn Library, in addition to the streaming video on the Web. [top]


Restrooms for guests are available inside each building on the Colonnade, the Leyburn University Library, and the Elrod Commons (where the University Store, Marketplace, and Café '77 are also located). [top]


Balfour is the official provider of class rings for both undergraduates and law students. Rings may be ordered at any time from the University Store as well as the Law Grad Fair and the Undergraduate Grad Fair. [top]

Safety and Security

Members of the Public Safety staff are in uniform and will be available throughout the ceremonies. If you have questions or need assistance, please feel free to seek them out. You may reach a member of the Public Safety staff by phone at 540.458.8400 or 540.458.8999. [top]

Seating and Line-Up

The ground in front of Lee Chapel is slightly sloping and the university provides chairs. There is also limited space under shade trees, shading tents, and along the Colonnade on the edges of the graduation area. The audience faces into the sun, so appropriate protection and clothing is advised. If it helps you to envision the area, please consult the setup diagrams. The sun is almost directly over Lee Chapel at 12 noon. If we must move inside, VMI's Cameron Hall has individual, padded, stadium seats and is air-conditioned and remote viewing sites will be set up on W&L's campus. [top]

Social Media

Commencement 2020 will be covered live on Twitter and Instagram at Share your photos and observations using #wlu20.


Each of the ceremonies is led by the president of the university, Dr. William C. Dudley. The commencement speaker for the Law School on May 8, will be Lizanne Thomas '82L, Partner in Charge, Jones Day, Atlanta GA. The main speaker at the undergraduate baccalaureate service on May 27 will be Rev. Dane Boston '08, Rector of Christ Church, Cooperstown NY. The newly elected Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winners also speak during Baccalaureate. President Dudley and William Bolton '20, 2019-2020 president of the Student Executive Committee, will be the speakers at the undergraduate commencement on May 28. [top]

Streaming Video

A live, streaming video of the undergraduate commencement will be available on the W&L website beginning a few minutes prior to the start of each ceremony. [top]


The number of guests at commencement is not limited, and those attending may sit anywhere in the area other than in a few designated sections. No tickets are required for any of the Washington and Lee's commencement activities and the ceremonies are open to the public. [top]


Water stations are provided to the sides and behind the seating area. Faculty and graduates also have bottled water at their seats. [top]


The National Weather Service forecast for Lexington is available at