Virtual commencement continues amidst senior pushback


Isabelle Indelicato, Staff Writer

The main request made by the 2020 Class Council was for seniors to have an in-person commencement even if postponed to a much later date, according to an email statement from Senior Class Secretary Caroline Smith. 

But with less than 12 hours until Virtual Commencement, some seniors are still feeling like the administration did not hear their pleas against an online ceremony.  

Requests were based on results from a survey that was sent out to seniors by the Class Council in order to determine the interest of virtual or postponed senior celebrations.

“There was an overwhelming sentiment that a virtual commencement ceremony would not be sufficient in recognizing folks’ accomplishments,” according to Smith. 

An email sent to all students and parents from President Helen Drinan on April 14, said that members of the Class of 2020 are invited to participate in the Class of 2021 commencement. 

Drinan’s email said that the decisions for tomorrow’s virtual commencement and for inviting members of the Class to 2020 to return for the 2021 Commencement ceremony were based on input from the survey. 

Smith told the Voice that council members were asked if they thought students would be receptive to a combined ceremony by Corey Zohlman, assistant dean of student engagement, and Richard Voos, associate provost for planning, assessment, and accreditation, , during a Zoom meeting.

Smith said that the council told Zohlman and Voos that it was important that the ceremonies for the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 be kept separate. 

Unavailable for an interview, Zohlman told the Voice in a statement that throughout the planning process for commencement, “it was crucial to seek and incorporate input from students,” and that the survey and Zoom meeting with Voos and class council members determined how to “create opportunities to celebrate both this year and in the future.”

In the initial Zoom meeting, as well as in subsequent meetings with Zohlman, Smith said that there was conversation about holding a virtual gathering in May in order to “celebrate the end of our senior year  until the college could safely hold an in-person ceremony where we would be able to walk across a stage and receive our diplomas in person.”

Class Council members were “completely caught off guard” when they received President Drinan’s with plans for virtual commencement and the option to attend 2021 commencement, according to Smith. 

“This was especially hard to see after not having received any prior warning that this was the decision. I don’t want to speak for everyone in the council, but I think it’s safe to say that we were very upset,” said Smith. “After gathering suggestions from our class and sharing our ideas with the school, it was frustrating and discouraging to feel so unheard.”

As COVID has made many in-person graduation celebrations impossible, other Boston-area schools have turned to alternative options.

Tufts University announced on March 20 that their 2020 Commencement would be held virtually, but changed those plans on March 26 after hearing student’s “concerns and frustrations.” In an update, Tufts President Tony Monaco said that the university will hold an in-person, on-campus, Commencement when it is safe to do so, adding that students “made it clear that a delay is far preferable to moving the event online.”