Michael Suguitan / Sun File Photo

Commencement for the Class of 2020 will go on — just not in May.

March 20, 2020

Commencement Not Canceled: President Promises Senior Send-off

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COVID-19 canceled much of Cornell’s spring semester activities, such as in-person classes, and even Slope Day. However, one annual tradition withstood the historic pandemic: senior commencement.

In an email sent to Cornell students — and addressed to “seniors and other graduating students” — President Martha E. Pollack promised that a graduation ceremony will occur, although admitted that the logistics are still uncertain at this time.

Pollack opened the email emphasizing the “intense years of study” that spring graduates completed while at Cornell, and said that “in normal times” a celebration on Memorial Day would occur.

That will not happen this year, Pollack said in the email. The president wrote that the University is “not yet able to announce a date or location” of commencement ceremonies due to uncertainty of the impact COVID-19 will have, but she did state that “we will have your commencement.”

Although the location has not yet been announced, Pollack said it will occur in Ithaca, and that the University “will find creative ways for those who are unable to attend in person to be able to fully participate virtually.”

Cornell’s pledge to eventually hold an in-person commencement event contrasts with that of many peer colleges. Emory University and Washington University in St. Louis opted to cancel their annual send-offs completely, while the University of Pennsylvania said it would hold a “virtual event.”

Degrees will still be granted in May, before the commencement ceremony.

The full text of Pollack’s email is available below:

Dear seniors and other graduating students (and, by copy, the entire Cornell community),

You have just about completed intense years of study at Cornell. You’ve done amazing things here, both inside and outside the classroom. In normal times, we would celebrate your accomplishments with commencement on Memorial Day weekend. Commencement is a momentous, milestone celebration, one that everyone in academia, and especially graduating students, their families and their professors look forward to each year.

This year, while degrees will be granted on time, we will not be able to have the ceremony on Memorial Day weekend. But we will celebrate: we will have a commencement – and it will be a joyous one!

We are not yet able to announce a date or location, as that will very much be determined by the progression of the current public health crisis. But I can say with certainty that your celebration will occur. It will take place in Ithaca. All of our graduates and their families will be invited. And we will find creative ways for those who are unable to attend in person to be able to fully participate virtually. 

Thank you again for the incredible flexibility and resolve that each of you has demonstrated over the past few weeks as we have had to adjust to our new, current realities. I emphasize current, because I know that we – as individuals, as Cornellians, as a nation and as a global community – will get through this and be able to once again congregate with friends and neighbors, to return to a normal work routine and to the physical classroom. And we will have your commencement. 

So, stay well. Practice social distancing. And we will be back to you with more information.