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Penn will hold the Class of 2021 commencement ceremony in person at Franklin Field for seniors who have participated in Penn's asymptomatic testing program this semester.

Credit: Son Nguyen

Penn will hold the Class of 2021 commencement ceremony in person at Franklin Field for graduating seniors only on May 17. Guests, including family and friends, must watch the ceremony online. 

Only seniors who have participated in Penn's asymptomatic testing program this semester and who have not had housing or access to campus revoked because of a Student Campus Compact violation will be eligible to participate, University officials announced in a Tuesday afternoon email. No other in-person ceremonies for the Class of 2021 will be held, and graduate and professional ceremonies will be held virtually.

Seniors must test negative for COVID-19 prior to the ceremony as well as wear a mask and social distance, Penn President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli wrote in the email.

The University also announced plans to further postpone an in-person celebration for the Class of 2020 due to campus and local health guidelines limiting travel from outside the Philadelphia area. Penn held last year's commencement ceremony online and announced plans to hold a postponed, in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 on the weekend of May 22 and 23, 2021, about a week after the ceremony for the Class of 2021.

"With members of the Class of 2020 now literally spread across the country and around the globe, reconvening on campus this year is simply not possible," University officials wrote. "We remain committed to finding the best in-person opportunity to appropriately recognize and celebrate our 2020 graduates."

Penn also announced 1985 College and Wharton graduate Laurene Powell Jobs as the Class of 2021 commencement ceremony speaker. Jobs is the founder and president of Emerson Collective and the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. 

Penn will also award honorary degrees to United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Penn Board of Trustees Chair David L. Cohen, composer John Williams, poet Joy Harjo, poet and 1992 philosophy Ph.D. graduate Elizabeth Alexander, 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipient Frances H. Arnold, and President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee David Miliband.

Some Ivy League schools, including Brown University and Dartmouth College, similarly announced plans for in-person graduation ceremonies with families and guests attending virtually. Others, including Columbia University and Harvard University, announced that their 2021 commencement ceremonies would be fully online. 

Several members of the Class of 2021 told The Daily Pennsylvanian in February that they hoped Penn would stick to its plans for an in-person ceremony, saying that the University could find ways to hold a safe ceremony for students, and that it would be particularly meaningful for first-generation, low-income students. The DP Editorial Board published a call for an in-person ceremony, so long as attendees are vaccinated, masked, and distanced, and campus positivity rates remain low. 

With COVID-19 cases declining in Philadelphia, the city has loosened restrictions on dining and outdoor sports stadium capacities. Outdoor stadiums are now able to host up to 2,500 people and indoor stadiums can hold up to 500. Pennsylvania has also lifted its mandatory quarantine for people traveling from out of state, according to NBC Philadelphia. 

Provost Wendell Pritchett said at a Feb. 25 Board of Trustees meeting there is a “50-50 chance” Penn will launch its own student vaccine campaign by May. Pritchett said the University does not yet know when vaccines will be available, but he expects a smooth transition to vaccine distribution because of the infrastructure in place for the spring COVID-19 testing program. 

"We are pleased to be able to recognize as many of our graduates as is safely possible in person at Franklin Field on May 17," the email stated. "To all our graduates, we offer our heartfelt congratulations on a job well done.