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Harvard Postpones 369th Commencement Exercises

Members of the Harvard College Class of 2019 stand and cheer as their degrees are conferred during Morning Exercises.
Members of the Harvard College Class of 2019 stand and cheer as their degrees are conferred during Morning Exercises. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

Heeding advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as its own faculty, Harvard will indefinitely postpone its 369th Commencement Exercises, University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in an email Friday.

Thousands of family members, faculty, and alumni from around the world typically crowd Harvard Yard to take place in the traditional Commencement Exercises, which include graduating students from the College, Harvard’s graduate schools, and the Extension School. This year’s scheduled speaker was Washington Post executive editor Martin “Marty” Baron.

Instead of holding the traditional ceremony — which Bacow wrote is “almost as old as the University itself” — the University will host a virtual commencement on the originally scheduled date of May 28.

“No virtual gathering can possibly match the splendor of our usual festivities, but we will come together online on Thursday, May 28, to award degrees so that everyone will graduate as expected,” he wrote. “Each School at Harvard will also host its own special online event and afterwards deliver diplomas through the mail.”

When experts deem it safe for the University to host a large, in-person event, Harvard will put on a belated ceremony for the Class of 2020 with “as many of the traditional campus festivities that typically precede commencement as possible,” according to the email.

Last week, Bacow announced that Harvard would move all classes online after Spring Break. He advised all students across the University to move off campus indefinitely; undergraduates specifically were mandated to vacate their dorms by March 15.

Given the coronavirus pandemic currently raging across the globe, Bacow wrote that it would be difficult to safely hold a gathering of Commencent’s size. As of Friday, six Harvard affiliates have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Harvard University Health Services.

“Given the advice we are receiving from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other public health officials, and our own faculty, who are among the world’s leaders in infectious disease, epidemiology, and virology, it is difficult to imagine how we could safely hold such a large gathering this spring,” he wrote. “We recognize that people need to start making plans soon, so we thought it best to provide guidance now.”

Bacow added that the University is “exploring opportunities” to hold class reunions, which typically coincide with commencement in May.

“I wish we could give a firm date for this celebration now, but I ask for your patience,” he wrote. “Everything about this year seems to be turning out unusual. When we do hold commencement for the Harvard Class of 2020, I sincerely hope it will also be unusual, but only because it will be among the most joyous commencements in the history of the University.”

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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