Class of 2020 graduates return to campus for in-person Commencement ceremony

graduates at Francis Olympic Field
Graduates recess through the Francis Olympic Field gates on May 20. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Their academic year was cut short when the coronavirus started spreading around the world in March 2020. No last in-person classes. No personal goodbyes to friends, faculty and staff. No donning a cap and gown to participate in an on-campus ceremony with their classmates.

Delayed by a year, students who graduated in 2020 will finally get their chance on Sunday, May 30, to experience the time-honored tradition of walking in their Washington University in St. Louis Commencement. December 2020 graduates also have been invited to participate in the ceremonies.

More than 1,300 members of the Class of 2020 will be back on campus to take part in Commencement ceremonies, and more than 160 will join virtually.

The university is holding three ceremonies on Francis Olympic Field, beginning at 8:30 a.m. May 30. The morning and noon ceremonies will be for those who earned undergraduate degrees, divided in alphabetical order by last name. A ceremony at 3:30 p.m. is for graduate and professional schools’ graduates.

Julie L. Gerberding, MD, the first woman to serve as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will deliver the address to the returning graduates at each of the ceremonies.

A world-renowned infectious disease and vaccine expert, Gerberding is executive vice president and chief patient officer at Merck, the world’s fifth-largest pharmaceutical firm. She leads all aspects of strategic communications, global public policy, population health and patient engagement.

During her tenure as CDC director, Gerberding led more than 40 emergency responses against crises such as anthrax, SARS, bird flu, foodborne outbreaks and natural disasters.

The ceremonies will be livestreamed for alumni who are unable to return. To view any of the ceremonies, visit the Commencement website.

Per guidance from the university’s COVID Monitoring Team and the local health department, both of which advise wearing masks in large group situations, particularly when people’s vaccination status is unknown, the university still will require masking for all faculty, staff, graduates and guests in attendance. 

Chancellor Andrew D. Martin will preside over the three ceremonies, accompanied by Board of Trustees chair Andrew E. Newman, who will deliver remarks.

Others participating in the ceremonies will be Provost Beverly R. Wendland; Grand Marshal John N. Drobak, the George Alexander Madill Professor of Law at the School of Law and professor of economics and political economy in Arts & Sciences, who will make remarks; and Honorary Grand Marshal Ida Early, retired secretary to the Board of Trustees and former director of Commencement.

Wendland and the university’s deans will assist Martin in the conferral of more than 3,400 academic degrees. After the conferral of degrees, Martin will deliver his message to the Class of 2020.

Taylor Chen, the 2020 senior class president, who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Olin Business School, will deliver video-recorded remarks during the two undergraduate ceremonies, and Tiaya Clark, the 2020 graduate student speaker who earned a master’s in social work from the Brown School and a master’s degree in education from the Graduate School, will deliver video-recorded remarks during the graduate and professional schools’ ceremony.

A video recording of Emma Flannery singing “America the Beautiful” will be shown. Flannery earned a bachelor’s in both drama and English from the College of Arts & Sciences last week. The Washington University Brass Quintet will perform.

Semhar Mekonnen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Arts & Sciences last May, paid tribute to fellow members of the Class of 2020 when she performed The Beatles’ “In My Life” in Brookings Quadrangle. Ranked among the most-viewed WashU YouTube videos last year, it will be played again during the ceremonies.

Last spring, The Record highlighted the stories of 15 graduating students who embodied the spirit of the Class of 2020. Visit The Source to read these “postcards of appreciation” to a sampling of undergraduate, graduate and professional students who contributed to the Washington University and St. Louis communities.

While the May 15, 2020, universitywide Commencement ceremony was canceled in the midst of the pandemic, the university also recognized the Class of 2020’s graduation through online ceremonies and celebrations last May.

Graduating students who are unable to return for Sunday’s Commencement ceremonies have the option to participate in May Commencement or December recognition ceremonies any time during the next five years as their schedules allow.

Leave a Comment

Comments and respectful dialogue are encouraged, but content will be moderated. Please, no personal attacks, obscenity or profanity, selling of commercial products, or endorsements of political candidates or positions. We reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments. We also cannot address individual medical concerns or provide medical advice in this forum.