Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

The Class of 2017 celebrated their graduation with the traditional Schoellkopf Field march and commencement speakers — something that won't be the case for the Class of 2020.

February 18, 2021

Cornell Walks Back Promise, Moves 2020 Commencement, Summer Reunion Events Online

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In March, Cornell promised its outgoing seniors that they would have a commencement in Ithaca. Nearly a year later, the University officially rescinded that promise.

Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs Michelle J. Vaeth ’98 emailed alumni Wednesday morning, saying that reunion ceremonies this summer will be held completely online. Among these ceremonies is the Class of 2020’s commencement ceremony — scheduled for June 5 and 6, a few days after the Class of 2021’s planned commencement.

“After consulting with alumni volunteers and campus partners, and carefully considering the continuing public health risk and uncertainty due to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to host this year’s Reunion celebrations virtually instead of on campus as we had hoped,” the email read.

Last spring, the University decided not to give up entirely on hosting an in-person graduation. When President Martha Pollack postponed the Class of 2020’s commencement last March, she promised that an in-person ceremony would occur for those current seniors.

“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,” Pollack wrote on March 20, 2020. “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.”

Wednesday’s email walks back that statement. 

“Last spring, we had every reason to hope that in-person celebrations would be possible this summer, but we know now that these plans must also change,” Vaeth wrote.

Graduations in 2020 became a tricky topic for universities, as most schools canceled in-person ceremonies replaced by virtual ones. Cornell did send graduates a message from Pollack, but held off on holding a ceremony of any kind. Winter 2020 graduates celebrated through virtual ceremonies. 

The University has not announced full details of the Class of 2020 ceremony, but they plan to “create a special recognition of our 2020 graduates.”

This will be the University’s will be hosting its second consecutive virtual reunion, after moving all of its 2020 reunion events online last June. All events have moved to June 11 and 12. Most notably, this includes the reunions for the classes of 2015 and 2016, whose festivities were going to be from June 3 to 6, and the commencement ceremony for the class of 2020, set for June 5 and 6.

According to the Cornell Office of Commencement Events website, commencement in the spring for the Class of 2021 is “currently unlikely.” But the University plans on making a decision regarding the graduation for current seniors in March.