Students disappointed, ‘not surprised’ by restricted Commencement plans

by Caitlin McCarthy and Madeleine Bernardeau | 2/8/21 2:10am

by Tilman Dette / The Dartmouth

Reactions have been mixed in the wake of the College’s decision to hold an in-person Commencement for the Class of 2021, restricted only to graduating students. Members of the Class of 2020, who will now have to wait at least through this year to celebrate together after their in-person ceremony was postponed indefinitely, said they had expected the announcement. 

For some current seniors and their parents, the news of the in-person plans was complicated by the decision to prohibit family and guests from the celebrations in Hanover. Raymond Hsu ’21 received the news while in class, which he said made it "really hard to focus." 

"On one hand, I'm really grateful that we even get a graduation, [and] it's going to be really nice to see all of my friends at one place at one time, for the last time,” Hsu said. “But on the other hand, I feel like most of graduation is for my parents. They've given up a lot for me to get to this point.”

“I just feel like graduation is going to feel a little empty,” he added.

Executive director for conferences and events E.J. Kiefer wrote in an email to The Dartmouth that after considering other scenarios, the final decision as to the Commencement format was made at the beginning of January, though conversations around options, including those for the Class of 2020, took place through the fall.

Kiefer wrote that the live commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 will most likely include prerecorded parts, similar to those that ran during the virtual commencement for the Class of 2020.

"As we analyze seating arrangements, program elements (live and prerecorded) and flow of participants in and out of venues, we may need to alter plans based on COVID policies and protocols," Kiefer wrote. 

He added that the current goal is to have the entire Class of 2021 participate together at Commencement rather splitting up the class into different cohorts to graduate.

The event continues to be planned by the Commencement Committee, Kiefer wrote, which includes staff representatives from the Office of Student Life, members from the offices of the Dean of the College and the President's office and members from professional schools, graduate programs and service offices.

Kiefer added that "[s]tudent leadership will be consulted to discuss elements of celebration activities."

Some parents of graduating seniors also expressed disappointment. Class of 2021 parent Georgiana Mitchell described the decision as “heartbreaking'' and referred to the College’s choice as a “draconian measure” and “premature.”

She wrote an email to Dean of the College Kathryn Lively expressing her dissatisfaction the day after the College’s announcement and suggested in-person alternatives such as using Memorial Field to better socially distance or a family-per-car drive-by graduation procession.

“Please consider opening your campus and your hearts to the parents of the Class of 2021,” Mitchell wrote in the email. She has not received a response, she said.

With regard to last year’s seniors, Kiefer wrote that any updates for the Class of 2020 commencement ceremony will be provided in “early spring.” Plans for an in-person ceremony to follow last year’s virtual one remain suspended indefinitely.

Callie Page ’20 said that she was "not surprised" by the decision to postpone her class’s in-person commencement ceremonies. 

"I think I would have been more surprised if they had actually gone through with having Commencement for the ’20s," Page said, citing the difficulty of bringing people to campus from around the world and from "different parts of the country with different vaccination protocols."

Jennifer West ’20 had similar sentiments, saying that she was "not really surprised" by the decision and that she and many other ’20s she spoke to "saw this coming." 

"It just wouldn't really be safe to bring our whole class back together in the middle of the pandemic when vaccines aren't widely available," West said. She added that since she lives with immunocompromised and elderly family members, her family was already unsure whether they would be able to attend an in-person Commencement and travel to Hanover from the Washington, D.C. area.

Page added that she thought it “would be nice” for the College to put in extra effort into perhaps an earlier reunion for her class.