As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, scores of marquee events and college traditions have been canceled in a span of just over a week — a list that, for most schools, now includes graduation. Cornell, along with the rest of the Ivy League, have all issued statements announcing their updated plans for commencement.
In a March 20 letter sent to the Cornell community, President Martha E. Pollack wrote that, while degrees will still be granted as scheduled, hosting the annual commencement ceremony on Memorial Day weekend would no longer be possible.
However, Pollack assured students and families that Cornell does plan to eventually hold an in-person ceremony in Ithaca, although the date is not yet known. “We will celebrate: we will have a commencement – and it will be a joyous one,” she promised, adding that all graduates and their families will be invited to the postponed event.
To those unable to make it, Pollack also committed to finding “creative ways for those who are unable to attend in person to be able to fully participate virtually.”
Reflecting the severity of the COVID-19 crisis, similar decisions have been made throughout the rest of the Ivies — ranging from indefinite suspension to online alternatives.
In an announcement published on its COVID-19 website, Brown said it has not yet decided if its Commencement and Reunion Weekend will occur at its scheduled time in late May. The University said that “a decision will be made, and communicated to the full Brown community, no later than March 27.”
University President Lee C. Bollinger announced in a press release that the commencement ceremonies previously scheduled to occur on May 20th are now out of the question. “And, unfortunately, we are not in a position at this moment to announce an alternative plan,” he wrote, citing the uncertainty of the situation.
But Bollinger assured students that he would still confer degrees on May 20th. “We will have a plan to honor and celebrate your successes,” he wrote. “Speaking personally, there is no academic ceremony I love more, and I expect to love this one the most.”
The same is the case for Barnard College’s graduates-to-be, according to an article by the Columbia Spectator. President Sian Beilock stated that the ceremonies are now postponed to a later date.
President Philip J. Hanlon and Provost Joseph Helble said in a town hall-style interview that “there is a dedicated group looking at the feasibility of going forward, and at alternatives should we not be able to go forward with both commencement and reunion activities.”
Hanlon noted the importance of commencement to the Dartmouth community, and said that they “will do everything we can to recognize these gatherings and all that they mean” if they are unable to go through with the traditional plans.
Though Dartmouth has not officially cancelled or postponed commencement, Hanlon stated that a decision would be made by April 10.
President Lawrence S. Bacow stated on Harvard’s website that “with an especially heavy heart,” the school’s 369th commencement would be postponed from its original date of May 28.
Despite the ongoing use of technology in place of in-person classes, Bacow said that “no virtual gathering can possibly match the splendor of our usual festivities” but that degrees nevertheless would still be awarded online in May.
Striking a similar note to Cornell, according to Bacow, Harvard plans “to host an in-person celebration sometime later, once we know it is safe to bring people together again.” Although the date remains unknown, Bacow promised to “be in touch as soon as we have information to share.”
University of Pennsylvania
According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, holding an in-person commencement ceremony this spring would not have been a responsible decision, “based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention and public health experts.”
As a result, Penn has decided to host a virtual event on the same dates commencement was previously planned for, from May 16 to 18. But President Amy Gutmann said that the University is still considering an “on-campus celebration for the Class of 2020” for the upcoming fall, pledging in a message that it would hold in-person ceremonies “when it is safe and feasible to do so.”
As for Princeton, Jill Dolan, vice president for Campus Life, announced that no final decisions have been made.
“Given the uncertain nature of this health crisis, we believe it’s premature to cancel those plans based on the information currently available,” she wrote. The statement said that the decision to hold, postpone or cancel the commencement ceremonies “will be made based on the best public health advice possible, and once made, we’ll inform the community.”
Yale has also yet to come to a decision. According to its commencement website, the University is monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and consulting experts, and recommended that for changes, readers should continue to check its website.
For updates regarding other schools’ commencement announcements, see Forbes’s “Commencement Cancellation Tracker.”