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The Dartmouth
May 30, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Bring: Commencement Without Compassion

Dartmouth’s decision to exclude friends and families from in-person Commencement in June represents hasty and cold-hearted decision-making.

On March 31, members of the Class of 2021 received word that their family and friends will be totally excluded from the in-person Commencement ceremony. Instead, they have the luxurious privilege of tuning into the ceremony via livestream, like it’s a foreign soccer match you can’t get with a cable package.

Worse yet, Commencement will be held at Memorial Field “to allow enough room for physical distancing and for event organizers to manage the flow of those entering and exiting the Commencement site.” This explanation simply doesn't make sense: Memorial Field is comparatively smaller and much more enclosed than other nearby fields, like Scully-Fahey Field, Chase Field and the Green — the typical location. 

Far from concerns about physical distancing, it seems that the true objective of the administration is to prevent families, friends and community members from viewing the ceremony in any capacity, even from a safe distance. This aim is ridiculous, verging on malicious. Dartmouth should be approaching Commencement with an attitude of “How can we safely include our students’ loved ones?” Instead, they seem to be thinking, “How can we exclude them to minimize the hassle on our end?” 

The administration has tried to conceal their despicable plan with the lie that there is no alternative. They repeat this foolish claim as if schools with larger student bodies and fewer resources, like Kean and Purdue, are not planning and working hard to organize family-inclusive Commencements. Dartmouth could do the same.  

Rapid-testing, vaccine screenings, and guest limits can all enable Dartmouth to allow family members and special guests to attend. Memorial Field, for example, can hold over 11,000 spectators. With a guest limit of two per graduate, the College could easily socially distance these pairs, totaling no more than 2,500 individuals, within that capacity. They could even test all of them with cheap and accessible rapid tests, like the hundreds now administered to students every week.

Dartmouth’s Commencement is also unusually late, which gives the College the opportunity to plan and adapt based on other college’s experiences. In the next two and a half months, widespread vaccinations may vastly reduce COVID-19 spread and incidence. But Dartmouth, in rushing to make a decision about Commencement, has seemingly failed to consider alternatives because it would cost them time and money to do so. It would require them to be transparent, receptive and flexible. Unfortunately, these are not attributes the Dartmouth administration has been known to embody. Dartmouth’s hasty decision-making will once again inflict a cost on its student body.

The emotional importance of Commencement to many Dartmouth families should be perfectly clear. Many students feel that they owe a debt of gratitude to the family and friends who have helped them endure four years of Dartmouth. 

As my parents’ only son, I have been the direct beneficiary of all the hard work and sacrifices they made to grant me the blessings of a higher education. My parents have overcome life-threatening health problems and endured financial strain just to see me graduate from this college. They do not have another child with which to share the joy of a college graduation. I know that they, and many others like them, could attend graduation if Dartmouth made the necessary arrangements. 

But the College has no intention of working to give us a safe, sensible and inclusive graduation. 

I can only assume that the College disregards people like my parents, who have partly funded its operating budget by paying four full years of tuition, and me. It also disregards less privileged students and their families who have overcome more hardship than my family has while getting through four expensive and exhausting years here. 

Despite all the messages we hear from administrators like Dean Lively about compassion and kindness in these troubling times, they act without those virtues. The College did not even have the decency to write to our parents to inform them of the most recently announced Commencement details. I had to share that news with my heartbroken parents. Yet there appears to be no way to hold the College accountable. 

Furthermore, administrators seem to have pawned off responsibility for this doubtlessly unpopular decision to nameless “campus organizers,” who apparently exert absolute authority over the Commencement ceremony that should belong to the ’21s. This anonymity leaves frustrated students, families and community members with no ability to communicate their preferences and concerns. 

It would seem that they — “campus organizers” and College administrators — do not want to face the consequences of their actions. Indeed, the decision that the College has made is one that will jeopardize relationships with an entire new class of alumni as well as their parents, some of whom are alumni themselves. Many alumni and community-members have already criticized the administration’s handling of the pandemic, among other issues. Dartmouth graduates will be even less willing to support the administration’s expensive plans with their checkbooks if they feel that the College is not even willing to plan a considerate Commencement for its seniors and their families.

I know I will not forget the contempt with which the administration has treated the Dartmouth student body during this pandemic. I urge all students, families and alumni to remember it as well.