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Several Ivy League universities are reconsidering their plans to hold in-person commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021.

Credit: Biruk Tibebe

As May approaches and the threat of COVID-19 still looms large, many universities are reconsidering their plans to hold in-person commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021.

Some Ivy League schools — like Brown University and Dartmouth College — are planning to hold in-person ceremonies for the Class of 2021 only, with no guests allowed. Others, including Harvard University and Columbia University, have opted to hold a virtual commencement for the second year in a row. Some, including Brown and Princeton University, have also canceled plans to hold in-person ceremonies for the Class of 2020, which were postponed last spring.

Penn and Yale University are the only two Ivy League institutions that have not yet announced an update regarding their commencement plans within the past several weeks. 

Here's a breakdown of how all eight Ivy League schools are planning to honor their graduates this year.

University of Pennsylvania

Penn is currently set to hold in-person commencement ceremonies for both the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 in May, although University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian last week that "no final decision has been made at this time."

After canceling in-person commencement for the Class of 2020 last March, Penn promised in May 2020 to hold an in-person ceremony in May 2021.

Commencement for the Class of 2021 is currently scheduled for May 17, and the ceremony for the Class of 2020 will be held on the weekend of May 22 and 23, if conditions permit. The commencement website states that “details about commencement weekend will be confirmed as soon as possible.”

Credit: Kylie Cooper President Amy Gutmann spoke at Penn's virtual commencement in May of 2020.

Brown University

Commencement for the Class of 2021 at Brown will take place in person on May 1 and 2, with family and guests only permitted to attend virtually, President Christina Paxson announced in a school-wide email on Jan. 21.

The University had previously planned to also hold an in-person commencement for the Class of 2020, but canceled the ceremony. Alumni Relations will work with the Class of 2020 to “find a way to meaningfully honor their achievements,” according to Paxson.

“Should circumstances improve, we will consider relaxing restrictions, but we cannot plan for that uncertain outcome,” Paxson wrote.

Columbia University

Columbia’s Class of 2021 will participate in a fully virtual commencement on April 30. Columbia was the first Ivy League school to announce a completely online commencement for Class of 2021 graduates on Feb. 24.

Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned in New York State. The school has not released plans for an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 after last year’s virtual commencement. 

Cornell University

After promising in March of last year to hold an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 this spring, Cornell rescinded its earlier commitment and announced on Feb. 18 that commencement for the Class of 2020 would take place virtually on June 5 and 6.

The University has not made a final decision on commencement for the Class of 2021, but its commencement website calls an in-person ceremony “unlikely.” Final plans will be announced in March 2021, according to the website.

Dartmouth College

Like Brown, Dartmouth plans to hold an in-person commencement for the Class of 2021 during the week of June 6, according to a Feb. 2 announcement. Family and guests are not permitted to attend the ceremony in person.

President Philip Hanlon wrote that the plan is subject to change based on health guidelines, but final details will be announced by the end of March.

Hanlon also announced that Dartmouth will no longer hold an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 this spring, citing the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Harvard University

Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced on Feb. 26 that the University will again postpone an in-person commencement and hold a fully virtual ceremony for the Class of 2021. The school did the same last year for the Class of 2020.

Bacow pledged to hold an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2021 "one day" — a promise he also made to the Class of 2020 last year, according to the Harvard Crimson.

“Though circumstances may well improve by spring, it takes months of planning to prepare for our usual festivities, which draw to campus and to Cambridge thousands of people from around the world,” Bacow wrote. “Right now, the risk posed by that possibility is too great.”

Princeton University

Princeton currently plans to hold an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2021 on May 16. The University is still determining whether guests will be able to attend, but if they are, students will be limited to a maximum of two guests, according to Princeton’s commencement website.

On Feb. 1, Princeton canceled the previously planned in-person commencement for the Class of 2020, tweeting that “inviting alumni back to campus from around the world is not prudent or possible.”

Yale University

Yale has not yet made a final decision on commencement for the Class of 2021, according to its commencement website. The ceremony, currently scheduled for May 24, will be confirmed “based on public health conditions,” and the University discourages guests from making non-refundable travel arrangements.

Yale launched a website, Yale 2020, last May to celebrate the Class of 2020 after postponing an in-person ceremony. Its commencement website currently states that "details on the in-person celebration will be shared here as they become available."

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