Harvard University Postpones 369th Commencement Ceremony Indefinitely

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Overview of the procession to the Morning Exercises in the Tercentenary Theatre during the 368th Harvard Commencement. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

By Colleen Walsh

The Harvard Gazette

Harvard President Larry Bacow announced Friday that the University’s 369th Commencement ceremony will be postponed indefinitely. The move is part of Harvard’s ongoing effort to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic .

With health officials anticipating large portions of the nation’s population becoming infected in the coming months, Bacow said the decision to postpone was the only way to help ensure the safety of the thousands of members of the Harvard community who gather on campus for Commencement Exercises each May.

“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,” wrote Bacow in an email to the Harvard community. “We recognize that people need to start making plans soon, so we thought it best to provide guidance now.”

To guarantee students graduate on time, the usual gathering will be replaced with an online degree ceremony on May 28. Individual Schools will hold their own virtual Commencement ceremonies, Bacow wrote, and graduates will receive their diplomas in the mail. Other higher education institutions around the country have begun opting for virtual ceremonies to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Bacow said University officials are working to organize a personal ceremony on a future date.

“We plan to host an in-person celebration sometime later, once we know it is safe to bring people together again. By then, we will be eager not just to celebrate our graduating students, but also to recognize and acknowledge the sacrifices that so many have made to ensure the well-being of our community. We intend for this ceremony to have all of the pomp, circumstance, and tradition that is typical of a Harvard Commencement — with as many of the traditional campus festivities that typically precede Commencement as possible.”

The day featuring services for graduating students and a Commencement address before alumni is the highlight of the academic year, and is also the University’s largest annual gathering, bringing thousands into close proximity with one another. The ceremony, generally held outdoors, begins in the Old Yard as students, faculty, staff, honorees, and dignitaries gather to process into Tercentenary Theatre, where the steps of Harvard’s Memorial Church facing Widener Library are transformed into a stage for both morning and afternoon events and addresses. Each spring, about 32,000 people attend Harvard’s morning exercises.

Bacow’s announcement follows many rolling changes across campus as University officials work to help contain the spread of the virus, keep members of the Harvard community safe and informed, and help students, staff, and faculty manage their stress during the pandemic. Following spring break on Monday, Harvard will shift to online learning.

In other developments

Tips for working effectively from home

On Friday, Harvard’s Executive Vice President sent a message to central administration staff containing information about how to work effectively off site. “We continue to add new resources to the ‘work remotely’ section of the University coronavirus website to support you as best we can, including links to articles, remote gatherings, and knowledge series to help you stay connected and motivated; and HUIT guidance on accessing and optimizing the internet remotely and basic guidelines for using Zoom that will help ensure adequate bandwidth for academic use,” the message said.

She also thanked employees for their transition to remote work and encouraged them to practice self-care by taking regular breaks, going on walks, stopping for lunch, drinking water, getting plenty of sleep, and remembering to be “as compassionate with yourself as you are with others while we acclimate to these circumstances.”

Commuter passes on hold; free campus parking

 Harvard commuters who receive a subsidized transit pass from the University and who do not use their pass during April will receive full credit toward a future benefit month, noted an email from Harvard’s CommuterChoice program on Friday. More information and details are available here.

In addition, employees are now eligible for no-charge daily parking at select Harvard facilities on the Cambridge and Allston campus. All Harvard ID holders will have access to the 52 Oxford St. Garage, the Broadway Garage, the Soldiers Field Park Garage, and the Webster Lot in the athletics area.

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