President Iuliano addresses the Class of 2020 about this year’s Commencement Ceremony.
Dear Members of the Class of 2020,
I write to you personally today with news that will not surprise you, but that deeply saddens me nonetheless. After careful deliberation, the College has decided that it is necessary to postpone our in-person Commencement Weekend scheduled for this May.
My preference, as I’ve expressed on several occasions since our move to remote learning, has been to delay this decision for as long as practical. I recognize how much it means to come together, as a community and with family and friends, to celebrate the academic milestone represented by graduation. I know how much you, as graduating seniors, are already feeling a sense of longing and absence given the disruption to this semester, and how much a traditional graduation in May would mean. Postponing the in-person May ceremonies adds to that sense of loss, and for that reason I had hoped that the passage of additional time would permit us to reconvene in front of Penn Hall in what in my mind’s eye would be a pristine, late-spring day.
But the calendar is now turning to April, and ceremonies associated with graduation are a little more than six weeks away. The College is hearing from parents and students anxious to make plans. In addition, the logistical realities associated with graduation, whether in-person or virtual, are significant. Taken together, these factors require that we come to a decision. If we had tangible signs that the pandemic was abating, it might have been possible to defer the decision a small while longer. But, unfortunately, the current evolution of the virus gives little reason to believe that waiting another five or even ten days would give us confidence that we could responsibly—indeed, safely—bring thousands of people from across the country and world to campus by mid-May.
In a normal year, three things associated with graduation occur in May. First, the Board of Trustees votes to award the appropriate degrees to the graduating students. Second, on graduation day, students are given their diploma, which serves as an official document recording the degree that has been awarded. And, third, through the rituals associated with graduation, we joyfully celebrate the inspiring accomplishments of our seniors and their families.
Taken together, these acts of substance and symbolism help make Commencement a truly special day in your life. I will say more about this in a moment, but it is precisely because of the importance of these ceremonies that we are actively exploring how best to honor you and your class with a proper graduation. But, however we proceed, I want to emphasize that seniors in May will receive the degree they have earned through their academic work. Those seniors who have been voted their degree will be able to report having graduated from Gettysburg College as of May 17, 2020.
As we reflected on the decision to postpone the in-person graduation ceremonies, we recognized the value of actively engaging the senior class in what should take place. Graduation is for you and your families, none more so than in this year, given the unprecedented circumstances we are all experiencing and their disruption to your time on campus. We want to hear from you. Should we hold a virtual ceremony on May 17, the date on which the on-campus event was scheduled? Should we replicate the ceremony at a later date? Perhaps some combination of the two? Or should we pursue something entirely different, as a means of affirming just how different this year has been?
By next Monday—April 6—I ask that you take a moment to offer your voice and thoughts through our Class of 2020 Survey. This will provide us with a sense of your preferences as we move forward with our planning. Beyond the survey, there will inevitably be other Commencement-related decisions on which we would welcome your input, and so I have charged our Senior Class Officers—Callie Fucarino ’20, Will Thompson ’20, Julia Roehl ’20, and High Garst ’20, who each sits on our Commencement Committee—to lead us in the associated student outreach.
Class of 2020, thank you. I cannot imagine a better group of students to have helped shepherd me through my first year at the College. I cannot imagine a more optimistic or resilient group, one I’ve watched in admiration adapt to a world that has changed in dramatic ways over the past several months. I am looking forward to working with you to find the right way to celebrate all you have accomplished at Gettysburg College. Until then, I ask that you continue to do great work and to support one another.