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Penn plans to hold separate in-person commencement ceremonies for both the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 in May.

Credit: Son Nguyen

With some peer institutions canceling or modifying spring commencement ceremony plans due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Penn has not made any decisions to scrap its current plans.

Penn is set to hold separate in-person commencement ceremonies for both the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 in May after the original May 2020 ceremony was postponed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, several other universities — including Brown University and Princeton University — have recently canceled their plans to hold an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 this spring. 

Brown announced on Jan. 21 that the University will move forward with an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2021, but no longer plans to have an in-person commencement for the Class of 2020, citing public health concerns as new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 spread. Brown also announced families and guests will not be able to attend the Class of 2021 commencement in-person.

Princeton canceled its postponed ceremony for the Class of 2020 on Feb. 1, stating that “inviting alumni back to campus from around the world is not prudent or possible." Princeton has not yet announced its Class of 2021 commencement ceremony plans.

It is not yet known whether Penn's upcoming commencement ceremonies will face a similar fate. University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that "no final decision has been made at this time."

Penn held a virtual commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 last spring, featuring remarks from Penn President Amy Gutmann and commencement speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The ceremony included performances from the University of Pennsylvania Marching Band, as well as graduating students from the Penn A Capella Council, with a surprise appearance from 1999 College graduate John Legend.

Some members of Penn's Class of 2021 remain hopeful that the University will commit to its plans for an in-person ceremony for their graduating class in the spring.

College senior Rachel Perlstein said that although she would understand if Penn chooses to hold the ceremony remotely, she thinks there are many different ways that the University can safely hold an in-person commencement ceremony, including limiting the number of guests.

Wharton senior Jake Milner said that, as the semester progresses, he hopes that Penn will have enough testing capacity to hold an in-person ceremony in some form.

“I definitely think the most likely thing is that families won’t be included at all which, of course, is disappointing, but in the grand scheme of things, given everything that has happened in the past year or so, I think even being able to get something in person and live stream it would be really great if we can pull it off safely,” Milner said.

College senior and Undergraduate Assembly President Mercedes Owens also said she is hopeful for some sort of in-person commencement ceremony because it will be particularly meaningful for first-generation, low-income students. 

“I would be happy if we are able to have a ceremony that is limited to students if that means we are able to safely distance and celebrate this huge achievement in person. The ceremony is especially meaningful for FGLI students, and I would love to be able to share in that collective joy in May,” Owens wrote in an email to the DP.

College senior Kassidy Houston said that, while she would ideally like to walk across the commencement stage with her classmates this spring, she ultimately hopes that the ceremony will be held remotely for safety purposes. 

“In my most idealistic mindset, I’m hopeful that there will be something [in person], but I know in reality that it is probably going to be remote,” Houston said. “And I do hope that it is remote, thinking about safety, because I personally wouldn’t be comfortable with gathering in a large setting if I didn’t know that the majority of those people were vaccinated.”

Penn’s commencement website states that details about commencement logistics will be confirmed as soon as possible.