On Monday, Feb. 15, the Office of Campus Events sent an email to the senior class announcing a change in date for the 2021 graduation ceremony. Originally scheduled for May 22, the Commencement ceremony will now take place on May 8 and will be held without guests in attendance. In addition, the Office announced the cancellation of previously discussed plans to host an event for the class of 2020, whose graduation ceremony was cancelled last spring due to COVID-19.
Commencement for the class of 2021 will be a socially distanced gathering on Samuel Mather lawn. In-person attendance will be limited to students and faculty, with a livestream available for friends and family. The College will provide caps and gowns to students for the ceremony, but will not present diplomas, instead mailing them after the students graduate. In addition, the ceremony will include remarks from President Sean Decatur and Senior Class President Hannah Petrich. A faculty or staff speaker will be chosen by the senior class prior to the ceremony.
The graduation events will continue virtually on June 12, featuring highlights from the May 8 celebration. Graduating seniors will also receive care packages, meant to be a keepsake for their memories and accomplishments on the Hill.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the College had stated their intentions to host a belated graduation ceremony for the class of 2020. However, an email on Feb. 15 from the Office of Campus Events to members of the class stated that “it is not realistic to hold a large-scale, on-campus event for the class of 2020 this spring.”
Still, President Sean Decatur is hopeful that there will be some sort of celebratory event for the class of 2020 in future years. “I still think that doing something for the class of 2020 is something I would like to do,” Decatur said. “I just don’t think the timing of the pandemic is going to be right in May or June.”
Students have generally reacted negatively to the changes. Some were shocked by the update, while others, like Jaret Dan ’21, were unsurprised yet still disappointed by the decision.
“I would’ve liked to know what their reasoning was for cancelling senior week and making us have Commencement in the middle of finals preparation,” Dan said.
Decatur said that it was important to host Commencement while students are still on campus to help minimize the inflow of outside visitors. “Once students start moving in and out and there are family members coming from off campus, the sense is that it is a leakier bubble condition overall,” he said. “We want to try to do any larger in-person gatherings before students move out.”
Dan questioned what he believed to be an inconsistency in College policies regarding the presence of visitors on campus, especially students’ family members.
“Are they concerned about parents coming for move-out?” Dan said. “There wasn’t a problem for move-in and there’s also workarounds for that.”
Students from the class of 2020 also expressed mixed reactions to the decision to cancel their graduation event. Some, like Alexis Reape ’20, believe that, while the decision may be disappointing, it was ultimately a necessary one.
“I think now more than ever, it’s important to remember that there are circumstances where we have to create our own closure,” she said. “Though I wish I could have had the senior spring and graduation that I always thought would happen, I have made my peace with the reality of the situation.”
When asked about the possibility that these plans may change before the spring, Susan Morse, chief of staff for the Office of the President, suggested that this was possible but unlikely.
“One thing we have learned over the past year is that change is always a possibility, so flexibility is important,” said Morse. “That said, I don’t anticipate significant changes to the plans at this point.”
Unless plans change, the end of this semester will mark the second year of abnormal graduation procedures since the COVID-19 pandemic began.