BOSTON, Mass. – A growing number of U.S. colleges are canceling or curtailing graduation ceremonies amid fears that the coronavirus pandemic will stretch into spring, with some schools exploring “virtual” alternatives or planning to reschedule commencements.
As students on other campuses await decisions, some are organizing their own unofficial celebrations as they brace for the worst.
The University of Michigan on Friday canceled all spring graduation events and other large campus gatherings. In a message to students, President Mark Schlissel said he knew it was disappointing but added that school officials are “looking at ways to celebrate 2020 graduates in the future.”
Others canceling graduation ceremonies include Brigham Young University, Grinnell College, West Texas A&M, Grambling State and the Savannah College of Art and Design. Dozens of others say it's too early to decide, leaving families uncertain about whether to book flights and hotels, and students wondering whether to purchase caps and gowns for the walk across the stage.
Graduation decisions are being made at the same time colleges scramble to move instruction online and send students home, a shift happening at dozens of schools in an attempt to curb spread of the virus. Students have been abruptly dismissed at schools from Harvard to the University of Alaska, and many schools say they shouldn't plan to return this term.
At Grinnell College, officials told students to leave by March 23 and said there will be no “traditional” graduation ceremony. Instead, the private school of 1,700 in Iowa is mulling how it could honor graduating seniors in an online ceremony. Officials are also debating whether to bring seniors back in 2021 and host a ceremony for two classes at once.
“We want to be celebrate and cherish our students,” said Anne Harris, the college's dean and vice president for academic affairs. "But we were following the logic: If we’re sending everybody out, why would we bring everybody back in?”
Grambling State, a historically black university in Louisiana, announced Friday that seniors will get diplomas mailed to them and can participate in a future ceremony.