Boston University has postponed its May 2020 commencement ceremony in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to the university’s operations.
President Robert Brown wrote that the 147th commencement will be postponed until late summer or early fall in an email to the graduating class of 2020 Thursday, promising that he will send more details by May 1.
“I made the postponement decision with a heavy heart, but I am also mindful of the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and our public safety obligations,” Brown wrote. “Regrettably, it is impossible to be definitive about a date until the epidemic subsides and we feel it will be safe to hold the exercises.”
The commencement will be pushed to “either late August or early October,” according to BU’s commencement website. BU spokesperson Colin Riley said that Brown will finalize the date for the postponed commencement by May 1 and noted the tradition is important for many students and family members.
“It’s one of those things we didn’t want to do too quickly with so much uncertainty about how things are going with the spread [of coronavirus,]” Riley said. “It also fits into a timeline within the academic year.”
Brown considered the option of holding an online commencement ceremony, but wrote that a virtual event would not be a “fitting substitute.” For students and family members who will not be able to physically attend the commencement ceremony on a new date, Brown is allowing each college to individually decide their course of action.
“Individual schools and colleges may plan virtual events in May to celebrate your accomplishments,” Brown wrote, “especially for those of you graduating from professional graduate programs for whom returning to campus later this year may be impossible.”
This is the first time BU has postponed a commencement ceremony, Riley said. In 1970, commencement was cancelled due to riots and bomb threats amid the nationwide student protests of war efforts in Cambodia. Riley said the graduates who never walked across the stage had the chance to celebrate their commencement in a “ very celebratory” way 40 years later.
“I saw a lot of those graduates 10 years ago when they were on campus, and it was almost contemporary of those people. So I understood that particular experience that they’ve gone through,” Riley said. “For many of them, just being on a college campus again, unless they’ve been there with their daughters or sons, or other family members. For many, it was [the] first time certainly back at BU.”
Diplomas will be mailed to students before the new commencement. Riley said that the university will have to physically assemble the diplomas and that the process for that is practical.
“We do this for students who do not come back to campus for graduation,” Riley said. “And there are some graduates from January that don’t show and we’ll make sure those diplomas, same thing, will get to them.”
Riley said that BU will try to make the commencement a special event, despite its postponement.
“[BU] wants to make sure that the pomp and circumstance are evident and present for all of the graduates and their families. It’s a very big family event,” Riley said. “A lot of excitement, just great pride. A lot of emotion and tears and people just seeing people they’ve spent the last four years become very close to and friends and now you’re going into a new part of your life.”
Refunds for those who have bought tickets to the commencement events and accommodations at Warren Towers will be made as soon as possible, according to BU’s commencement website.
For the time being, Riley said that it is important for graduating students to stay healthy, protecting both themselves and others, and to keep up with the global news. He also said he hopes as many graduates and their families as possible are still able to come to commencement, despite its delay.
“Two months or six months in a young person’s life is a very long time. But for people at your parent’s age or your grandparents, [they] have a little different perspective,” Riley said. “We know that this is in the best interest of all. So it’s [up to] everyone to do our part and we’ll be able to celebrate at a later date.”