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Mar. 25, 2020 – Graduating Students and Families: Update on Commencement

Posted by on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 in Community Messages.

Dear graduating students and families,

The historic circumstances of the last few weeks have required some of the most difficult decisions university leaders across the country have ever faced—and have brought about unprecedented challenges for graduating students and their families. Today, I write to you with one of the most painful decisions of all, and one that has been on my mind from the moment the COVID-19 crisis began.

Based on current CDC public health recommendations for maintaining social distancing through mid-May, and after deliberation with the deans of all of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges and with our Board of Trust ad hoc committee on university COVID-19 response, I have reached the profoundly difficult decision not to hold Vanderbilt Commencement ceremonies, or other related activities, for this academic year.

In lieu of gathering on May 8, we are committed to holding a set of special events for you in May 2021. We envision these events in May 2021 as both a historic postponed Commencement ceremony and a one-year reunion for the Class of 2020. Although we are working to determine specific dates, we are planning for these events to be held between May 12 and May 16, 2021. I am launching the process of assembling a group of students from the Class of 2020 to give input into the planning of these events to help us ensure they reflect your hopes and expectations for this incredibly special moment.

Please know your degrees will still be conferred when you have completed all requirements to be eligible to graduate, but no formal ceremony will be held in May 2020. Further, as they would have done in May 2020, the August and December 2019 graduates also will be welcomed for the postponed events in May 2021. For more information on degree conferral, please visit the Commencement website.

This has been an incredibly difficult decision. Commencement is a sacred time that we all share across the Vanderbilt community as a way of recognizing and celebrating the remarkable achievements and diligent work of our newest graduates. Yet we are in a time in history that demands—first and foremost—the protection and safety of our students and their families. My heart truly aches knowing that we will not be able to celebrate in person on May 8.

I have said before that this year’s graduating students’ resilience and ability to persevere through trying times are extraordinary. There is no doubt in my mind that you will use these circumstances to learn and to grow. Perhaps for some of you, it may even alter the course of your lives in a positive way, whether that comes in the form of discovering new ways to fight this disease or finding innovative solutions to help safeguard the public from future pandemics—or it may simply renew your spirit of empathy and compassion.

As we move forward, I encourage you to stay focused on your studies, pursue your academic and professional goals with vigor, and remain connected to your friends, classmates, professors, advisers and the Vanderbilt community at large. We are here for you—today, this semester, on the day your degrees are conferred and for many years to come.

With respect and admiration always,

Susan R. Wente
Interim Chancellor and Provost
Vanderbilt University