Campus, Coronavirus, News

January 2021 graduates to attend in-person May commencement following student, parent objections

boston university students celebrate at commencement ceremony
Students celebrate at Boston University’s 2016 commencement. BU President Robert Brown announced Monday January 2021 graduates will be allowed to participate in the University’s in-person commencement in May. ALEXANDRA WIMLEY/ DFP FILE

Boston University President Robert Brown announced in an email to Class of 2021 January graduates Monday that they are now invited to attend the in-person commencement ceremony in May, following numerous complaints from parents and students.

Previously, January graduates were set to attend the in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 in October.

“We hope that you will be able to join us on this special occasion,” Brown wrote. “Although the format of commencement will be different this year, we aim to provide an event that celebrates and acknowledges your hard work and accomplishments.”

The commencement is scheduled for Sunday, May 16 and is limited to graduating students. The University is planning to provide family and friends with virtual access to the ceremony.

Each BU school or college will host its convocation virtually, and students will receive their diplomas in the mail.

Brown also asked students to complete a survey to inform the University if they plan to attend the in-person ceremony.

BU spokesperson Colin Riley said the University changed its decision for January graduates after receiving convincing arguments from the BU community.

“I think just the persuasiveness of the logic,” he said, “and the fact that we’ll be able to find a way to accommodate those students, those graduates.”

The University has yet to create a testing or quarantine protocol for those attending the in-person ceremony, but Brown wrote in his email that information regarding COVID-19 procedures and how to register will be provided at a later date.

Riley added while he is unsure of the exact logistics of how testing will occur, graduates will likely receive further communication with steps for testing before the ceremony.

“We’re doing our part to ensure that everyone who is participating in that ceremony has been tested and is negative,” Riley said.

Sarika Ram, a January 2021 College of Arts and Sciences graduate, said she was happy to hear she could attend the May ceremony — she hasn’t been on campus since last March.

“I am pretty excited, because I just got the diploma in the mail and thought that was really going to be it,” Ram said. “But the fact that now I’ll be able to say goodbye to my friends and kind of have closure for this weird chapter is for me personally, exciting.”

Although she is looking forward to the event, she said she worries about the ceremony’s potential to be a super-spreader event.

“I think there’s some valid critiques of having students who haven’t been on campus coming in, potentially hundreds of us, maybe even totaling 1,000 or more,” Ram said. “That could definitely be problematic in terms of bringing COVID onto campus and, again, to the greater Boston area.”

Miriam Kamens, a 2020 CAS graduate, said she thought it was “strange” for people who graduated after her class to attend their ceremony before she could attend hers.

“At the same time I understand, because if you can get those people that have a graduation that’s as close as possible to when they’re graduating, it’s definitely more ideal for them,” Kamens said. “I can understand why those parents complained.”

If BU begins catering to the demands of parents and students for this particular case, however, she said they might have to start listening to parents of students from the previous year.

“It’s definitely a strange choice because I think that just opens it up for the parents of last year’s graduating class to also complain,” Kamens said, “and I think it’d be difficult to figure out where to draw the line.”

She added that having more people at the May ceremony might make it difficult to socially distance and some people might be deterred from attending a large event in the current state of the pandemic.

“It’ll make it more difficult for people who aren’t vaccinated yet, who might not be comfortable in going,” Kamens said. “Maybe they would have felt more comfortable going to the October one, but they just can’t travel or can’t get to the one in the Spring.”

While providing graduates with the opportunity to have an in-person ceremony was important, Riley noted that safety remains the number one priority.

“The last thing we want to do after everyone’s gone through so much this past year,” he said, “is to create a situation where there is the spread of the virus.”

Disclaimer: Sarika Ram was an associate city editor at The Daily Free Press for the Spring 2018 semester. She was not involved in the reporting or editing of this story.


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One Comment

  1. What we need is for President Brown and all of admin to allow one safe guest per student
    (vaccinated and masked or even just double masked and tested )
    as Northeastern and Connecticut are now doing. Our parent group has been inundated by parents and students asking for just one exception. My own son is graduating and I am fully vaccinated with Pfizer and would double mask. He lost his father to brain cancer and all he wants is for me to be present as a cancer survivor so far too, his only living parent, when he achieves this graduation after enduring this tough pandemic. Is there anything students can do to make this happen? My posts were removed by BU when we asked on BU Today and on their Facebook pages but many parents told me they have written and asked.
    This is the least our students deserve and BU could be very strict with this. They have done such a good job with testing and avoiding spread / this is feasible when carefully planned. Use some of the millions of stimulus monies to help lift morale and make this happen.
    Anything is possible if we try together as a team safely.
    It would also be a good time to honor the 2 custodians lost during this pandemic and their surviving families with a gift. Please run a story or survey on this.

    BU Parents United