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RISD cancels in-person commencement

With continued uncertainty around the pandemic’s progression, RISD will host a virtual commencement, will hold some spring events with limited in-person capacity

The Rhode Island School of Design canceled in-person commencement for the class of 2021, citing uncertainty around the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an email from President Rosanne Somerson to the student body Monday morning.

“We do not have confidence that either the progression of the virus or vaccine distribution will adequately reduce our risk for a gathering of any size,” wrote Somerson, “and therefore feel we are unable to responsibly move forward with our traditional in-person Commencement ceremony.”

In lieu of an in-person commencement, RISD will have a “virtual commencement with moments for student interaction.” Somerson added that “small, in-person departmental gatherings” could still occur, depending on COVID-19 cases. 

“I know that after many years of hard work and sacrifice this will be disappointing news to our students and their families,” Somerson wrote. “Joining with loved ones to celebrate our students and their achievements in person is one of the highest joys for all of us.”

Commencement for the class of 2020 also shifted online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; in April, RISD announced plans to celebrate the class of 2020 in person over the weekend of Indigenous Peoples Day, The Herald previously reported. Due to the continued prevalence of the pandemic, RISD will instead host a “special virtual celebration” for members of the class of 2020 this spring.

The class of 2020 will be invited to campus in fall 2021 to celebrate their first reunion, as well as their recent graduation, along with other classes celebrating reunions, according to the email. 

Spring exhibitions for seniors, which showcase seniors’ final projects at RISD, will still be held in person at the Woods-Gerry Gallery, though access will be limited to current students, faculty and some staff. The work will also be viewable online through the exhibition’s Flickr site.

Similarly, the 2021 graduate thesis show will be held in person with limited access. The show will take place on the second- and third-floor galleries of the Chace Center at the RISD Museum, and “potentially other sites in Providence.” RISD is also considering an online version of the graduate show similar to its 2020 show, according to the email.

“We are committed to acknowledging your work in ways that are celebratory, meaningful and true to RISD within the confines of our current circumstances and our dedication to everyone’s health and wellness,” Somerson wrote.


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