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Students of the Class of 2020 are pleased that they will have an in-person commencement ceremony next year. Credit: Biruk Tibebe

Graduating students are pleased and excited after Penn announced on Wednesday it would hold an in-person commencement ceremony next year for the Class of 2020 on May 22 and 23, 2021.

The traditional Class of 2020 Commencement Celebration was originally scheduled for May 18. Based on recommendations against large gatherings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, the University canceled it in March and replaced it with a same-day virtual ceremony.

After a student petition demanding that the University postpone rather than cancel the in-person celebration garnered over 11,700 signatures in March, Penn President Amy Gutmann promised to hold an in-person ceremony when it became "safe and feasible" to do so. President Gutmann announced this week in an email to the Class of 2020 that deans, professors, classmates, family, and friends would also attend the postponed ceremony. 

Graduating College senior Mckayla Warwick said she was pleased that the University chose not to schedule a ceremony in 2020, which she feared might also be canceled because of coronavirus. Warwick said that while it felt strange for the Class of 2021 to have a commencement ceremony before the Class of 2020, she is still glad the University has made plans for a physical celebration. 

The Class of 2021’s commencement is currently scheduled for May 17, 2021, five days before the Class of 2020 ceremony.

Warwick said despite the fact that seniors cannot celebrate in-person, clubs and student organizations are doing their best to make graduation special for seniors. Warwick said Makuu’s Senior Toast, a ceremony for Makuu seniors, made her feel like she was really graduating.

Warwick, who received a President's Engagement Prize in April for a financial literacy project in West Philadelphia, said she plans to attend the May 2021 ceremony as she will still be in the area. She added, however, that some students living farther away may be unable to take time off work to come back for commencement.

Graduating College senior and outgoing Undergraduate Assembly President Natasha Menon echoed Warwick’s praise for the University’s decision to schedule the ceremony in 2021 rather than this year. Menon said she hopes that by planning commencement far enough out, the University can avoid having to reschedule it again.

Menon said she will be in London next year pursuing a graduate degree, but plans to return for the ceremony as long as it does not conflict with her finals schedule.

Graduating College senior Serena Miniter said having a concrete date for an in-person commencement made her feel relieved and excited. Miniter said she liked the idea of waiting until May 2021 because the ceremony will also serve as a one-year reunion for her class.

“I think the whole class is really grateful that we’ll have an in-person graduation, because it’s such a memorable event, and so important to all our families,” Miniter said. 

Graduating College senior Jackson Sauls said while his family may not be able to attend the 2021 ceremony as they would have this year, he plans to return next year for commencement. Sauls said he was also glad that the University chose not to schedule commencement for the fall, but worries that people may still be hesitant to attend a large ceremony in May 2021 because of continued concern about the coronavirus.

“I’m glad they’re making an effort to do something,” Sauls said. “The [commencement] that’s happening online is not something I’m really excited to attend, but I’m glad they’re doing at least something now.”

Graduating Wharton senior Rosie Nguyen said she was glad when she heard the news, as she was disappointed about the prospect of only graduating through an online ceremony. Nguyen said she plans to attend the ceremony in May 2021, as long as she is able to return to Philadelphia during that time. She added that celebrating commencement was particularly important to her because she will be the first generation in her family to graduate from college. 

“As a first-generation student, graduation means not only that I made it, but that my parents made it, and their parents made it,” Nguyen said.