The University of Maine's 2016 commencement ceremony. There will be an in-person element to commencement this year, but don't expect graduation to look like this. Credit: Micky Bedell / BDN

Most Maine college seniors will be able to walk across the stage and collect their diplomas in person this spring, signaling the return of a rite of passage that wasn’t available to graduates a year ago. But whether graduates will be allowed to have guests watching in person depends on the institution they attend.

With 6-foot social distancing and gathering-size limits still in place, most Maine colleges and universities have decided to offer students some version of an in-person graduation while they restrict the size of the audience. But the in-person elements of graduation could still look drastically different.

The University of Maine in Orono will record small groups of students walking across the stage and collecting diplomas for a virtual commencement ceremony video, according to a message earlier this week from President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. The videos will be filmed in late April and early May, and the virtual graduation will take place later in May.

Ferrini-Mundy acknowledged that “this hybrid approach will disappoint some students and their families, while aligning with the expectations of what others are willing to do in this second year of the pandemic.”

Other college campuses are confident they can offer a graduation more closely resembling a traditional commencement ceremony, but with fewer people.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Bates College in Lewiston and Husson University in Bangor all plan to allow students to collect their diplomas in person, with two guests per graduate at the ceremony and in-person commencement speakers. But there will be no handshakes, and students and their guests will have to wear masks and maintain social distancing, even if they’re vaccinated.

Husson and Bates plan to divide graduating students into two groups to allow for smaller ceremonies. Their commencements are scheduled for May 8 and May 27, respectively. Bowdoin’s May 29 graduation plan is closer to a traditional commencement.

Maine Maritime Academy in Castine will also offer an in-person graduation ceremony on April 8, but will not allow any guests. The senior class will graduate with some Maine Maritime employees present, and the academy will live-stream the ceremony so families and friends can watch, according to Emily Baer, digital communications manager at Maine Maritime Academy.

“I wish I could see 1,000 people in our field house celebrating the wonderful accomplishments of their son, daughter, niece, spouse, family member, or friend, but we have to keep everyone in this community safe,” President William Brennan said in the school’s announcement of graduation plans.

The return of some in-person element, however, won’t be universal. The University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Presque Isle plan to keep their commencement ceremonies entirely virtual this year.

Graduation plans at each of Maine’s seven public universities will vary based on their student population and available space, according to University of Maine System spokesperson Dan Demeritt.