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University to hold in-person Commencement for class of 2021, cancels postponed class of 2020 ceremony

Guests to attend ceremony virtually, decision follows RISD’s cancellation of in-person Commencement

Updated at 8:16 p.m. 1/21/2021. 

Commencement for the class of 2021 will be held in-person May 1 and 2, but families and guests must attend the event virtually in light of public health conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic

The decision was announced Thursday afternoon in a campus-wide email from President Christina  Paxson P’19.

The University also canceled the in-person ceremony for the class of 2020, which was originally slated to take place alongside that of the class of 2021 after it was moved online in a May 6 decision following the ceremony’s postponement in March. All alumni reunions for 2021 will be held virtually.

“Should circumstances improve, we will consider relaxing restrictions, but we cannot plan for that uncertain outcome,” Paxson wrote.

The announcement comes barely a week after the Rhode Island School of Design’s Jan. 11 decision to cancel in-person ceremonies for the spring. Instead, the college will offer a virtual commencement with potential for “small, in-person departmental gatherings,” according to an email from President Rosanne Somerson.

According to Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy, announcing the decision at this time was done with the intention of "being fair to students and their families about what to expect so they can plan," and, "from the University's perspective, so we can plan well."

Carey emphasized that it was important to plan according to the "more likely scenario" that commencement and reunion exercises would have to occur in a limited capacity, as public health conditions would likely make it unsafe for a large group of people to congregate for the events. Taking this into consideration, the University decided to scale back its events to ensure the ceremony could be "special as possible while being safe for the students who are graduating."

Alumni Relations will be working with the class of 2020 to “find a way to meaningfully honor their achievements,” Paxson wrote. Last May, a “Virtual Degree Conferral Ceremony” was held to honor members of the graduating class remotely.

“While we are seeing encouraging national reports about vaccine development, the coronavirus continues to pose a risk to public health and safety,” Paxson wrote. “Unfortunately, positivity rates statewide and across our country remain high. There are concerning reports of a more transmissible variant of the virus, and widespread vaccine distribution is taking longer than we would like.”

This marks the second consecutive year in which guests and alumni will be unable to attend commencement exercises. In 2019, Commencement and Reunion Weekend attracted more than 10,000 people, according to a University press release

“To the members of the class of 2021, whose families will experience these changes in Commencement due to the pandemic personally, I am so sorry to write with such disappointing news, especially when our community has already sacrificed so much,” Paxson wrote. Students will have the opportunity to attend University Commencement ceremonies in future Commencement and Reunion Weekends once the pandemic is over, she emphasized.“Brown remains steadfast in its commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of the Brown community as well as the greater Providence community. I look forward to the day when we have the opportunity to be together again in-person to mark these momentous occasions,” Paxson wrote. “Until then, let’s remain committed to supporting each other and upholding the strong community spirit that is so special at Brown.


Jack Walker

Jack Walker served as senior editor of multimedia, social media and post- magazine for The Herald’s 132nd Editorial Board. Jack is an archaeology and literary arts concentrator from Thurmont, Maryland who previously covered the Grad School and staff and student labor beats.

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