On March 11, President Iuliano sent the following message to seniors and their parents about planning for Commencement 2021.
As the spring semester moves along, your thoughts and mine are increasingly focused on May and our celebration of your well-earned graduation from the College. I’m writing now to give you an update and to underscore our commitment to work with you to design an engaging and time-honored Commencement ceremony, informed by the continuing public health protocols made necessary by the pandemic.
The College has a standing Commencement Committee, consisting of faculty and staff from across the institution. Over the past several months, the Committee has been hard at work, consulting with various campus partners, public health experts, and Pennsylvania colleges and universities. Its goal has been to understand what’s possible given the state’s regulations and to learn from the approaches peer institutions are taking to celebrate this pinnacle achievement in your undergraduate experience in the context of COVID-related health and safety directives. This is challenging work to be sure.
As is true for so much of what we do at the College, we will benefit enormously from student ideas, recommendations, and preferences. To that end, I have asked the Committee to engage our senior class leadership—the Senior Class Officers and the Senior Class Advisory Group—in our planning process.
The Commencement Committee looks forward to hearing the ideas of the Senior Class Officers and Senior Class Advisory Group, and will share what it has learned about the pandemic-related challenges. For example, the Committee has learned that some colleges have announced that guests will not be able to attend, and others have scaled down their ceremony into smaller gatherings. These judgments reflect some of the very real challenges every college is facing, including ours, in balancing the desire for a fully traditional ceremony with what is required and sensible given the current state of the pandemic. Together, with the creativity and wisdom of these three groups, I know they will put forward options for this year’s Commencement worthy of consideration and worthy of all you have accomplished over the past four years.
We know that you and your families are eager to hear how Commencement will be structured in this most unusual year. Respecting that desire, and given the time the College needs to implement any plans, our goal is to have come to a decision and to have announced it within the next two weeks. We ask that you please delay making any travel arrangements until a final announcement has been made.
In short, this year’s Commencement ceremony will need to be different from those held throughout our storied history. The question, then, is how? How can we think and act anew to create a truly memorable experience for your class? We are committed to making this a special celebration and I know that the Commencement Committee is looking forward to your input as it completes its work.
For those senior class leaders participating in this meeting, please come prepared to discuss these essential questions. I also ask that you talk with your classmates and think outside the box. The pandemic may not make it possible to do everything as we have always done it, but the challenges of the last year are all the more reason for us to think creatively about how we can celebrate you and the College this May.