Washington University in St. Louis plans to welcome the graduating Class of 2020 back to campus for an in-person Commencement ceremony on May 30, 2021, according to Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. This event will take the place of the ceremony originally scheduled for May 15, 2020, that was canceled due to public health concerns in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know many of you have been anxiously awaiting a decision about our postponed Commencement celebration, and please know how grateful I am for your patience as we worked out the details,” Martin said in a video message to graduates and their families, sharing the date of the rescheduled ceremony. “Although that date is still a little over a year away, as long as it is safe to do so, I will look forward to seeing you then on the Danforth Campus as we properly celebrate your accomplishments.”
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Washington University shifted to online instruction, asked students to complete the spring semester from their permanent residences and canceled most university events, including Commencement.
Martin appointed an Alternate Commencement Committee to explore options and recommend how the university should honor the Class of 2020 with an in-person ceremony at a future date. The committee, which was chaired by Chancellor Emeritus Mark S. Wrighton, met several times, conducted a student survey to gather feedback from graduates about their preferences and delivered a report to Martin that contained several scenarios for planning the event.
“While there were pros and cons to all of the options, there were some definite advantages to holding our ceremony on Memorial Day weekend 2021,” Martin said. “First, the holiday weekend is a time when our graduates will likely have some time off from their work schedules, which we hope will make travel to St. Louis more convenient for those who are no longer in the region.
“In addition, holding this event a week after the Class of 2021 Commencement will allow for space at area hotels to accommodate our guests and give us time to potentially make on-campus housing available to our returning graduates. And, perhaps most importantly, this timing will create space for each of our graduating classes to have separate celebrations, and for the Class of 2020 to enjoy its own time with family and friends on campus, similarly to what they would have been able to do if not for our current circumstances.”
The university will consider ways to assist graduates who face obstacles in returning to St. Louis for Commencement. Martin added that the safety of the university community — including future alumni and their families who would be returning to campus — will remain the highest priority in planning for this event. The university will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation as it develops and will make decisions accordingly, as appropriate to the circumstances as Memorial Day weekend 2021 draws near.
“We are optimistic that we will be able to welcome our graduates and families back to campus as planned next spring, but, as we have since the pandemic first began, we will remain flexible and make informed decisions with the health and well-being of our community top of mind,” Martin said. “I’m grateful to Mark Wrighton and to the Alternate Commencement Committee for their work, and I look forward to celebrating the Class of 2020 in person next May.”
Graduating students who are unable to return for Commencement in May 2021 will have the option to participate in May Commencement or December recognition ceremonies anytime during the next five years, as their schedules allow. Details for how to register will be provided at a later date.