Guide to Celebrating May Graduation at the University of Iowa

By Katie Linder
You did it! As a newly minted graduate from the University of Iowa, it's time to celebrate.
Graduation Caps Students celebrate their graduation from the University of Iowa during a 2019 commencement ceremony.

This guide is a collection of ideas and resources to help you (or your family and friends) plan for a special weekend in the Iowa City area.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa's commencement ceremonies will take place virtually May 13 – June 4, but an in-person celebration, with limited capacity, is being held Sunday, May 16, at Kinnick Stadium. Visitors to the community are reminded that a mask mandate is still in place in Johnson County and not all restaurants are operating at full capacity. Contact individual businesses if you have questions before you visit.


Fill your Instagram feed with amazing graduation photos featuring your favorite places on campus. Pose in your cap and gown, and grab a few pics with friends and family. Use #AlwaysAHawkeye when you post!

Graduation Herky

This is a must. Herky, donned in full graduation attire, is standing in front of the Old Capitol at the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Clinton Street in downtown Iowa City.

Student poses with Herky A student poses with Herky for a graduation photo.

Old Capitol

Another important stop. There are several shots you can grab here with this beautiful, historic backdrop. Graduates like to take photos in front of the building, near the pillars, and in the doorway where "Iowa" is inscribed above the door. There are also beautiful views from the back of the building, overlooking where Madison Street and Iowa Avenue intersect.

Your Favorite Buildings

The UI is known for its beautiful architecture. Stop for a photo outside the buildings that meant the most to you during your time on campus.

Iowa River Walk

The views are gorgeous along the Iowa River. Take your family for a walk, and stop for a photo on the IMU bridge, Hancher pedestrian bridge, or somewhere along the winding riverfront trail.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena

Unfortunately, there will not be any commencement celebrations inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena in 2021, but you can still pose for a photo with Herky, Dan Gable, or the giant Tigerhawk outside the south entrance.

Iowa alumni stand outside of Carver-Hawkeye area New Iowa alumni stand outside of Carver-Hawkeye area for a photo on graduation day.

Kinnick Stadium

If you plan to attend the in-person Celebration of Graduates event at Kinnick Stadium, this is an opportune time to pose with Nile Kinnick or one of the Tigerhawks on display.

Pedestrian Mall

Favorite photo spots on the ped mall include the Weatherdance Fountain Stage (outside of The Graduate Hotel), one of the story walls at the Clinton Street or Dubuque Street entrances, and in front of one of the breathtaking downtown murals.


Weatherdance Fountain on the ped mall in downtown Iowa City People sitting and enjoying the Weatherdance Fountain on the ped mall in downtown Iowa City.

Outside of official graduation-related celebrations, you may be interested in taking your family or friends on a small outing. Here a few ideas in the Iowa City area:

  • Pedestrian Mall
    Take a walk around the downtown area and explore the shops, restaurants, and public artwork.
  • Museums
    Visit the Pentacrest Museums – Old Capitol and the Museum of Natural History are open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the Friday and Saturday of graduation weekend. Bring a mask. Capacity is limited.
  • Literature
    Celebrate Iowa City's unique designation as a UNESCO City of Literature and home to the world-renowned Iowa Writers' Workshop. Take a self-guided, 1-mile literary tour. Or complete a literary walk in downtown Iowa City, where the sidewalks are decorated with bronze panels that feature words from authors who launched their careers here.
  • Day Trips
    If you want to escape Iowa City for a few hours, consider visiting two charming communities: The Amana Colonies and Kalona. Both feature breweries, restaurants, shops, and unique histories.


Yotopia frozen yogurt People enjoy eating Yotopia frozen yogurt, outside on the ped mall in downtown Iowa City.

The Iowa City area is home to many award-winning restaurants. Bring your mask and either dine-in, sit on a patio, or take out a tasty, celebratory meal.


Iowa City's downtown area includes several upscale restaurants that are perfect for celebrating a major milestone—like graduation. From Italian specialties at Basta, to steaks at Iowa Chop House, to foodie favorites at Pullman Diner, the options are vast. If you are looking outside of downtown, you might head over to the Iowa River Landing in Coralville for Mediterranean inspired dishes at Vesta or wood-fired Oaxacan fare at La Vecina. Iowa River Power Company and Monica's are also nice options located just outside of Iowa City.


For something more casual, try one of the Iowa City area's famous breweries, like Big Grove Brewery, which offers an expansive outdoor patio, frothy brews, and sensational food. You could also venture out to Backpocket Brewing, Reds Alehouse, or Millstream Brewing Company, which are all located in communities near Iowa City. Or consider ordering a pizza—your fellow Iowa alumni have a few opinions when it comes to good pizza in the area.

Breakfast or Brunch

If you are looking for one last hurrah before the family heads out of town, consider stopping for coffee at Java House, an Iowa alumna-owned business. Or order a full breakfast from Northside neighborhood novelties like Bluebird Diner or Hamburg Inn. The Dandy Lion, located downtown, is also a local favorite.


Once a Hawkeye, always a Hawkeye. Your Hawkeye family is proud of your accomplishments. Please stay in touch. Here are three easy ways:

  • Update Your Contact Info
    Before you head off on your next adventure, be sure to share your updated email address and any other contact information so we can reach you about news and upcoming events.  
  • Read Iowa News and Stories
    You can read about the latest happenings at the University of Iowa in the Iowa Newsletter—an email newsletter sent to Hawkeyes—and in Iowa Magazine.  
Iowa Magazine
Explore the latest stories from Iowa Magazine.

We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies in accordance with our Privacy Statement unless you have disabled them in your browser.