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Graduating seniors to celebrate commencement in-person next May with class of ’21

Virtual Degree Conferral Ceremony slated for May 24, in-person ceremony to follow one year later in May 2021

On Sept. 6, 2016, members of the class of 2020 walked through the Van Wickle gates to cheers from faculty, staff, family members and current Brown students as they processed toward the Main Green, where they took in Brown’s 253rd annual convocation. Now, those students will have to wait until May 2021 before they can pass through those famed iron gates once again. 

While the University will hold a “Virtual Degree Conferral Ceremony” for current seniors May 24, President Christina Paxson P’19 announced yesterday in a community-wide email that their official in-person commencement will take place next May alongside the ceremony originally slated for rising seniors in the class of 2021. 

As part of this ceremony, virtual diplomas will be emailed to the graduating class, and students will receive their paper diplomas and a program with the names of the 2020 class in the mail by mid-June. 

Paxson had said she hoped to hold the ceremony in October when she originally postponed this year's Commencement and Reunion Weekend. But due to public health experts' predictions that large gatherings still may be prohibited in the fall due to COVID-19, the University decided to delay the ceremony further. 

“Our graduating seniors will have the opportunity to celebrate their Commencement and their first Reunion at the same time,” Paxson wrote in the email.  

When Rebecca Aman ’20, a former Opinions editor for The Herald, opened Paxson’s email about Commencement, her family’s first thoughts about the combined graduation ceremony jumped to snagging hotel arrangements early. Their worries shifted when Aman realized that her sister, now a junior in the class of 2021 at Cornell, could be graduating on the same day. The current academic calendar for Spring 2021 has Commencement scheduled for May 30. 

It was a logistical dilemma her family would not have otherwise anticipated. With a six-hour drive between the two schools, “if they're literally the same day, my family can't be in both places,” Aman said. Aman added that she emailed the University to ask whether the 2021 and 2020 ceremonies would be held on the same day, or if they could be held on different days in the weekend. 

Annie He ’20, a computational biology concentrator who transferred to the University during her sophomore year, said that she was initially disappointed that the graduation ceremony was pushed back even later than the postponed October date. But a spring commencement will make it easier for her to return to campus for the ceremony because she will have just finished her first year at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

“I'm definitely excited to go back even if it's a year later, to just be able to walk through the gates,” He said. 

When the ceremony was originally postponed to October, students were concerned that work could be a barrier to returning to campus. “It’s hard to get a day off and there’s going to be a problem with housing,” Nathaniel Nguyen ’20 told The Herald at the time. “It’s just going to be chaotic.”

These challenges, along with financial barriers imposed by travel and accommodations, may still be problems for some members of the Class of 2020 in the spring. 

In Paxson’s March 24 email announcing the potential for an October Commencement, she noted that Brown alumni often recount “walking through the Van Wickle Gates and down the hill, with throngs of alumni, faculty and administrators lining the streets and applauding the new graduates.” 

She emphasized that: “All of our 2020 graduating students deserve to have this tremendous experience.”

While He acknowledged that the double ceremony may pose challenges related to lodging and safety due to the large crowds, she said she has “faith in them being able to plan it well, because the Brown Admin is really trying hard to accommodate everyone in the class of 2020.”

For now, He and Aman both plan to watch the virtual ceremony on May 24. 

Aman’s family will watch it together at home. “My mom has a kind of large computer monitor in her office, so we're going to take it to the living room and watch it,” Aman said. “I get to pick what's for dinner.” 

When the fall 2016 semester began, keynote speaker Andrew Campbell, dean of the graduate school, asked students at their convocation to celebrate their newfound “link between Brown’s venerable history and our bright, unwritten future” and their capacity to accomplish “remarkable things,” The Herald reported at the time. 

With unprecedented levels of uncertainty, the future the class of 2020 faces remains uniquely unwritten. As graduating students wrap up their studies, turn in final projects and celebrate finished theses, their time as Brown students will come to a close over the next two weeks. The virtual degree ceremony marking the culmination of their years at Brown will be their first official opportunity to celebrate what they have accomplished.



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