College works to solidify virtual commencement plans

by Lorraine Liu | 4/30/20 2:10am

5-7-19-commencement-divyakopalle
by Divya Kopalle / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Updated Apr. 30 at 9:24 a.m.

The commencement committee — a group of over 20 administrators charged with planning this year’s graduation ceremonies — is working to plan the virtual graduation event for the Class of 2020 on June 14. Both undergraduate and graduate degrees will be awarded at this ceremony, though an in-person celebration will be held in June 2021.

The ceremony, which will aim to retain a similar length to previous years’ in-person ceremonies — will be produced by piecing together pre-recorded clips and live footage, vice president for alumni relations Cheryl Bascomb said. Executive director for conferences and events EJ Kiefer added that the live portion will likely feature one of the College’s senior leaders speaking from Hanover.

The commencement committee plans to use Vimeo Livestream to webcast the virtual ceremony, which will “most likely” be open for public view, Kiefer said. 

Kiefer confirmed that graduating students will receive paper diplomas via campus mailing services, without any fee for shipping.

He added that diplomas will likely be mailed out after the virtual ceremony on June 14, once the undergraduate deans office and Dartmouth College printing and mailing services finish printing and reviewing the content of the diplomas, though exact dates and logistics are still being discussed. 

In the coming weeks, the commencement committee will finalize the lineup of this year’s virtual commencement speakers and begin to record and integrate all components of the virtual event.

The commencement committee includes representatives from the undergraduate deans office, graduate and professional schools, the office of student life, the office of the president, the office of communications and the media production team under the office of information, technology and consulting, according to Kiefer.

Additionally, two students from the Class of 2020 and one student from each of the professional graduate schools are working with the commencement committee to provide student input, according to Bascomb. She said that the undergraduate students were initially recommended by the office of student life and selected for their “leadership in their class.” 

As of Tuesday, the committee had created a working draft of the lineup of commencement speakers and the format of the event, Kiefer said. Bascomb added that potential keynote speakers include the president and the dens from the professional and graduate schools.

“I'm sure that there will be really special people helping celebrate [the virtual commencement],” Bascomb said, “whether that's a particular keynote speaker or for senior leaders from around campus or the alumni body.”

Kiefer said that he expects a draft schedule to be finalized in about two weeks, including a list of commencement speakers, though the details of the lineup for commencement speakers will not be released to the public until close to the commencement’s weekend.

Since some commencement speeches will be recorded in advance, Bascomb said that the Hopkins Center for the Arts will provide “particularly valuable” resources this year. Bascomb said media production director Mike Murray will ensure all components of the ceremony “blend smoothly,” from the music to pre-recorded speeches.

Bascomb said that the commencement committee is a campus-wide effort to ensure the ceremony can “happen smoothly, with all the pomp and circumstance that such a milestone represents.”

The commencement committee also gathered student input on the virtual ceremony in an April 14 survey to the Class of 2020.

Students were asked to rank the level importance of a variety of possible elements of the virtual event, such as the announcement of the graduates’ names, recognition of and remarks from the valedictorians, the main commencement address by an honorary degree recipient and the singing of Dartmouth alma mater. Students were also asked to rank three potential times — 8 a.m., 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. — to hold the event.

Additionally, students were given space to submit ideas about the virtual ceremony and challenges they might face in attending the event.

According to associate dean for student life Eric Ramsey, the Office of Student Life received “a large [respondent] turnout.”

He said that initial data revealed that for respondents, hearing from commencement speakers, finding ways to celebrate their individual and collective accomplishments and feeling connected to the Dartmouth community were important components of the ceremony. 

He said that he expects the results to be fully compiled by the end of this week.

Ramsey added that the office of student life is working with the senior class council, adding that the council will launch the process to select class marshals — elected leaders from the senior class — in the coming days.

Ramsey added that plans for Class Day exercises, a component of the in-person commencement program, “are still being developed” but “will likely be incorporated into the virtual and postponed ceremony.”

In addition to gathering student comments, Dartmouth has been in contact with the North American Association of Commencement Officers and a smaller group of 14 schools, most of them Ivy League institutions, to exchange ideas regarding the virtual ceremony, according to Kiefer.

The Office of Residential Life has refunded all on-campus reservations for commencement weekend, according to Kiefer. 

Additionally, Hanover Inn general manager Brian Hunt said that the inn has given full refunds to customers who paid deposits in advance. He added that the hotel did not transfer customers’ reservations to next year’s in-person commencement ceremony because the date for next year’s ceremony has not yet been set, and the hotel is closed and no longer accepting reservations at this time.

The Norwich Inn in Norwich, Vt. has provided four options to customers who made reservations for this year’s commencement. They can choose to transfer the reservation to the in-person ceremony in 2021, ask for a refund with a $100 processing fee, receive gift certificates or get credits that they can use any time other than during the in-person commencement, according to innkeeper David Burtonbush.

Bascomb said that the commencement committee is focusing on planning the virtual commencement and has not started planning next year’s in-person graduation. Kiefer said the committee will likely poll the Class of 2020 again in a few weeks regarding the in-person ceremony.

Bascomb added that the committee will provide senior leadership with date recommendations for the 2021 in-person ceremony based on student preferences and the ability of Dartmouth to hold the event at that time.

In addition to the June 14 undergraduate ceremony, virtual investiture programs for the professional graduate schools are set to air beginning on June 12, with the exception for the Geisel Program of Medicine, which will hold its ceremony on June 6, Kiefer said.