Commencement postponed to May 2021

Commencement, scheduled for May 12-16, 2021, planned to be separate for the Class of 2020 and 2021.

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Emily Gonçalves

Commencement ceremony held on Alumni lawn. (Former Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Immanual John Milton, Deputy News Editor

Vanderbilt postponed Commencement and its programming until May 2021 as a result of COVID-19 precautions, according to a March 25 email from Interim Chancellor Susan Wente.

Wente’s decision was based on current Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations and counsel from deans and the Board of Trust ad hoc committee on university COVID-19 response, per Wente’s email. This postponement updates Vanderbilt’s March 12 plan of holding Commencement on May 8; The university now plans to hold Commencement activities May 12-16, 2021.

The university is currently planning on separate ceremonies for the 2020 and 2021 graduating classes, with the 2020 ceremony likely taking place over the weekend, a Vanderbilt spokesperson said.

“This has been an incredibly difficult decision. Commencement is a sacred time that we all share across the Vanderbilt community as a way of recognizing and celebrating the remarkable achievements and diligent work of our newest graduates,” Wente wrote in the announcement. “Yet we are in a time in history that demands—first and foremost—the protection and safety of our students and their families. My heart truly aches knowing that we will not be able to celebrate in person on May 8.”

Wente’s email said that she would assemble a group of 2020 graduates for input on the planning of Commencement and its events to help the university match student expectations for the ceremony. The email also confirmed that students who complete graduation requirements will still receive their degrees this academic year.

Vanderbilt senior Nikhil Kothari started a now successful petition March 18 with 1283 supporters urging Vanderbilt to postpone Commencement programming instead of canceling it or holding it online. 

The full text of the March 25 email from Wente follows:

Dear graduating students and families,

The historic circumstances of the last few weeks have required some of the most difficult decisions university leaders across the country have ever faced—and have brought about unprecedented challenges for graduating students and their families. Today, I write to you with one of the most painful decisions of all, and one that has been on my mind from the moment the COVID-19 crisis began.

Based on current CDC public health recommendations for maintaining social distancing through mid-May, and after deliberation with the deans of all of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges and with our Board of Trust ad hoc committee on university COVID-19 response, I have reached the profoundly difficult decision not to hold Vanderbilt Commencement ceremonies, or other related activities, for this academic year.

In lieu of gathering on May 8, we are committed to holding a set of special events for you in May 2021. We envision these events in May 2021 as both a historic postponed Commencement ceremony and a one-year reunion for the Class of 2020. Although we are working to determine specific dates, we are planning for these events to be held between May 12 and May 16, 2021. I am launching the process of assembling a group of students from the Class of 2020 to give input into the planning of these events to help us ensure they reflect your hopes and expectations for this incredibly special moment.

Please know your degrees will still be conferred when you have completed all requirements to be eligible to graduate, but no formal ceremony will be held in May 2020. Further, as they would have done in May 2020, the August and December 2019 graduates also will be welcomed for the postponed events in May 2021. For more information on degree conferral, please visit the Commencement website.

This has been an incredibly difficult decision. Commencement is a sacred time that we all share across the Vanderbilt community as a way of recognizing and celebrating the remarkable achievements and diligent work of our newest graduates. Yet we are in a time in history that demands—first and foremost—the protection and safety of our students and their families. My heart truly aches knowing that we will not be able to celebrate in person on May 8.

I have said before that this year’s graduating students’ resilience and ability to persevere through trying times are extraordinary. There is no doubt in my mind that you will use these circumstances to learn and to grow. Perhaps for some of you, it may even alter the course of your lives in a positive way, whether that comes in the form of discovering new ways to fight this disease or finding innovative solutions to help safeguard the public from future pandemics—or it may simply renew your spirit of empathy and compassion.

As we move forward, I encourage you to stay focused on your studies, pursue your academic and professional goals with vigor, and remain connected to your friends, classmates, professors, advisers and the Vanderbilt community at large. We are here for you—today, this semester, on the day your degrees are conferred and for many years to come.

 

With respect and admiration always,

Susan R. Wente

Interim Chancellor and Provost

Vanderbilt University