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Information Regarding Commencement for 2021 Graduates

Updated Thursday, March 25, 2021 

To the Members of the University Community:

As you know, in February 2021 the University announced that we would move forward with hosting an interactive, high quality virtual commencement for the classes of 2021. We reached this decision after carefully considering current guidelines, examining multiple scenarios, and gathering input from students and others.

As has been the case with all of our decisions to date, we prioritize the health and safety of our community members.

We felt that based on what we knew at the time, the virtual commencement was:

  • the safest option given the unknown progression of COVID-19
  • the most equitable option, as there are students who do not have the means or are not comfortable returning to campus
  • the option allows us to offer students and families the highest quality and most predictable experience possible
  • able to give students and families certainty so they could plan accordingly

Having determined this was the best choice for our community, we proceeded with planning virtual commencement. 

Last Friday, I informed the University community that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had released new guidelines for schools hosting in-person commencement ceremonies. I informed the community that the University would re-evaluate our current plans in light of this new information.

A large group of community members have completed the thorough re-evaluation, dedicating much time and effort to make the most-informed and thoughtful decision possible. This group consisted of the Commencement Committee which consists of more than 20 faculty and staff, the University President, Vice Presidents, and Deans.

Given all that we know, the University has decided to continue to move forward with the virtual commencement we have been planning for you.

We are confident that this is the safest and highest quality experience we can offer. We stand behind this decision without reservation based on the unique circumstances of our campus, our values, and the facts we have carefully explored. We will not and cannot be influenced by decisions other high schools and colleges make, both inside and outside the state, as their values and circumstances are unique to them.

Here is further detail as to why we reached this decision:

  • We believe there to be major constraints in the new Massachusetts guidelines that will not allow us to achieve our desired outcomes for a quality in-person ceremony.
  • It is our practice to celebrate our graduates and offer them a high-quality experience. We strive to exceed expectations and we believe that the constraints required for an in-person commencement would lead to an experience that would fall short of our expectations and yours.
  • We do not believe new Massachusetts guidelines would allow us to protect the safety of employees, students, and guests. The vaccination roll-out statewide has been slower than anticipated and we expect to still have a large unvaccinated population by mid-May.
  • Our campus grounds are not capable of safely facilitating an indoor or outdoor ceremony given these new regulations. The inability to manage controlled access, parking, crowds, registration, and other requirements outlined by the state of Massachusetts would cause the University to have to implement strict rules regarding crowds and gatherings that would upset our campus guests, providing a negative experience for all.
  • We do not believe an on-campus commencement is the most equitable option for all students. We have students who live far away and are not comfortable returning to campus. Many have already made plans with family for the virtual commencement.
  • Circumstances and restrictions can change on a moment’s notice. If we proceeded with an in-person event, we do not believe we could quickly pivot to offer a quality virtual commencement if the in-person commencement were to be cancelled due to a spike in COVID-19 or severe inclement weather.
  • We do not believe hosting an in-person commencement is wise given recent increases in international, state, regional, and campus COVID-19 case numbers. 
  • We believe that the virtual commencement we have been planning will provide the best experience we could possibly offer for all of our students. It will be one that is memorable, that families can count on, and is fair and equitable to all.

We realize there are some disappointed students and parents as well as other students and families who are relieved to hear this news.

We will be posting more details regarding commencement, the theme students have voted on and other information the coming weeks on our website. We will also be announcing opportunities for small student gatherings for students to hear more about the plans and offer feedback.

As logistic questions arise, please email commencement@wne.edu

Everyone involved is sorry that we are in a global pandemic and regrets that we are not able to offer a safe in-person commencement. We are committed to working with students on ways in which we can invite them to campus to as a large group to celebrate when it is safe to do so. I also know that each graduating class is planning small, special on campus gatherings to celebrate with friends and mentors prior to the virtual event.

I have included answers to some questions below we expect to receive as a result of this decision.

Let us remember that our country has lost 500,000 Americans who will never be able to attend another graduation or family milestone again. No celebration is worth risking adding to that number.

Thank you,

Bryan Gross
Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing