WSU plans in-person grad events, new bell-ringing tradition

WINONA, Minn. (WKBT) — Winona State University not only has scheduled the first in-person graduation events on May 7 since the COVID-19 pandemic began but also will launch a new tradition of graduates ringing a large bell to mark the occasion.
WSU announced the developments to complement a previously announced Virtual Commencement Ceremony at 6 p.m. with Name Reading Ceremonies throughout the day, when graduates can walk across a stage, and the bell ringing after each ceremony.
“Walking across the stage, hearing names read and the switching of tassels — these are significant experiences for our graduates,” WSU President Scott Olson said.
Although the readings of names may feel similar to the traditional commencement ceremony, with stage walking and tassel switching, those events won’t include speeches, reflections, shaking hands or handing out diplomas.
Most of those elements will be included in the Virtual Commencement Ceremony later in the day. The ceremonies of reading names will be livestreamed, with only graduating students present — physically distanced and wearing masks.
After the ceremonies, graduates will get the opportunity to ring in their new life chapter with the start of a new tradition.
“Graduates will become the first participants in a brand-new WSU tradition,” Olson said. “Each time the bell is heard across the city, a student proclaims their achievement.”
The graduation bell will be a large, cast-iron bell that will be secured now and into the future so that only students can ring it on their graduation days. After they ring the bell, they will sign their names in a ledger that will be preserved for the future.
During COVID, additional safety measures will be put in place for those ringing the bell.
The inspiration for the new tradition was an idea that has been clanging around in Olson’s head for some time, he said.
“My inspiration was the convergence of two traditions — one at the University of Georgia and one at Harvard,” Olson said.
The University of Georgia has a tradition of ringing the Chapel Bell on graduation day. Harvard’s tradition is to walk through the “Old Yard” and a majestic gate that is done only on the day students enter Harvard for the first time and when they leave for the last.
Olson said he wanted WSU to embrace the symbolism of those tradition in recognition of students’ achievements with the Graduation Bell and the Applause Tunnel, which is a WSU tradition during commencement and new student convocation.
“We are ever grateful for the opportunity to gather both in-person and virtually to celebrate the class of 2021,” Olson said. “And to send them off on their journey to improve the world.”