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President Amy Gutmann conferred degrees upon thousands of 2020 graduates during Penn's virtual commencement ceremony on May 18. 

Credit: Kylie Cooper

On Wednesday, nearly 5,000 Penn diplomas were sent to recent graduates around the globe.

The same day the 4,921 physical diplomas were sent from the printer located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, all May 2020 graduates were notified by the Office of the University Secretary that they could also obtain their diplomas instantaneously — online.

Beginning with the Class of 2020, Penn is offering Certified Electronic Diplomas, which are now available for purchase and download. More than 355 graduates have downloaded CeDiplomas within 24 hours of the notice of this new option. 

“We realized quickly after the campus had to depopulate and we had to start teleworking, that there were a number of paths where students would normally get their diplomas on campus that weren't going to be available,” Office of the University Secretary Project Administrator Katherine Kruger said.

This year, the University has mailed almost 1,000 more diplomas than in 2019. 

The uptick is primarily due to the lack of in-person opportunities to receive diplomas on campus, Kruger said. Since all campus activity became remote in mid-March to keep the community safe amid the coronavirus outbreak, all commencement ceremonies were held online. Out of Penn’s 12 schools, only four of them — Penn Law School, Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, and the School of Dental Medicine — historically give students their physical diplomas at commencement. All eight of the other schools normally mail students their diplomas. 

As a result, Kruger said an additional 816 diplomas were sent earlier this summer, primarily to the graduates of these four schools.

Graduates of Penn’s other eight schools can expect to receive their diplomas within the next three weeks for shipments within the United States. International deliveries may take eight weeks or longer, Kruger said.

The diplomas are currently bound for 71 different countries, although mail disruptions have added obstacles for many international deliveries. 

Kruger said there are currently 168 graduates living in countries affected by mail service disruptions, mostly due to coronavirus-related issues such as closed borders. 

For these graduates, the Office of the University Secretary has requested students provide an alternative address of a family member or friend in another country. If this is not possible, the office will hold diplomas until it is feasible for the graduate to retrieve it. Kruger said the office has resolved the issue with 104 of the affected graduates

“It's definitely been challenging. It's never boring,” Kruger said. “We're just constantly trying to stay ahead of the documentation needs of students and making sure we have our ear to the ground, keeping track of what countries might have mail disruptions.” 

While the University is offering to mail or hold diplomas on campus for recent graduates, hard copies of the English diploma translation are unavailable as the office continues to work remotely, Kruger said.  

The Penn diploma has been printed in Latin since its inaugural graduating class in 1757. The English diploma translation is a highly requested document, Kruger said. Last year alone, 284 students requested the translation. 

This year, Penn is instead offering digital diploma translations, which Kruger said has received positive feedback.

In the University-wide commencement ceremony on May 18, Penn President Amy Gutmann conferred degrees upon the 2020 graduates. All 7,564 undergraduate and graduate students will have access to their diploma, whether via an instant online download or a mail delivery.