PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With COVID-19 continuing to pose a risk to public health and safety especially in large group gatherings, Brown University will host much of its Commencement and Reunion Weekend activity virtually while preserving the ability for Class of 2021 graduates who are in the Providence area this spring to participate in person.
“After consultation with public health experts, we have decided that Commencement events for the Class of 2021 will take place in-person on May 1 and 2, in accordance with public health protocols, but families and guests will attend virtually rather than in-person,” Brown President Christina H. Paxson wrote in a Jan. 21 letter to students, faculty and staff. “We also expect that most graduates who are studying remotely during the spring will participate virtually. Should circumstances improve, we will consider relaxing restrictions, but we cannot plan for that uncertain outcome.”
Paxson noted that in sharing the plan for Commencement now, students and families will be able to better prepare for celebrating their incredible accomplishments virtually during the weekend and in smaller settings at home or elsewhere in the days and weeks following.
In most years, thousands of alumni return for the three-day Commencement and Reunion Weekend on College Hill to reunite with classmates and celebrate Brown’s newest class of graduates. For 2021, all alumni Reunion events will be held virtually. Building on the success of Brown’s many virtual events since COVID-19’s arrival, Brown’s Alumni Relations team will work with Reunion class leaders to plan for a robust lineup of programs.
Alumni Relations will also work with members of Brown’s Class of 2020 — who missed the opportunity to participate in Commencement last year during the early stage of the pandemic — to find ways to meaningfully honor their achievements. University leaders had initially hoped that the public health situation would improve to the point where Brown could host a double Commencement and Reunion Weekend to cheer on both Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 graduates, but the state of the pandemic makes that infeasible, Paxson said.
The full text of Paxson’s letter is included below and on the University’s Healthy Brown website. An initial list of Frequently Asked Questions is available on Brown’s Commencement website and will be updated regularly in the coming weeks to address questions from graduates and family members.
Brown’s Plans for Commencement and Reunion 2021
Dear Members of the Brown Community,
I am writing to provide an update on Commencement and Reunion Weekend. At this moment, many students, including first-year students, have returned to the Providence area, and are observing the Quiet Period in preparation for the spring semester. I am grateful for the continued vigilance of the Brown community as we work together to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
While we are seeing encouraging national reports about vaccine development, the coronavirus continues to pose a risk to public health and safety. In the weeks following Winter Break, we have seen a number of faculty, staff and students test positive for the virus. Unfortunately, positivity rates statewide and across our country remain high. There are concerning reports of a more transmissible variant of the virus, and widespread vaccine distribution is taking longer than we would like.
After careful consideration of these circumstances and consultation with public health experts, we have decided that Commencement events for the Class of 2021 will take place in-person on May 1 and 2, in accordance with public health protocols, but families and guests will attend virtually rather than in-person. We also expect that most graduates who are studying remotely during the spring will participate virtually. Should circumstances improve, we will consider relaxing restrictions, but we cannot plan for that uncertain outcome. These decisions apply to Commencement events for undergraduate, graduate and medical school graduates. We also have made the difficult decision to make all alumni reunions for 2021 virtual events.
It is my hope that by sharing these plans now, students and families will be able to better prepare for celebrating their incredible accomplishments virtually on Commencement weekend and in smaller settings at home or elsewhere in the days and weeks following.
Last spring, I announced that we hoped to honor the Class of 2020 alongside the Class of 2021 during Commencement and Reunion Weekend. Sadly, given the reality of the public health landscape, this will not be feasible. Alumni Relations will work with the Class of 2020 to find a way to meaningfully honor their achievements.
To the members of the Class of 2021, whose families will experience these changes in Commencement due to the pandemic personally, I am so sorry to write with such disappointing news, especially when our community has already sacrificed so much. But please remember that one of the distinctive features of Brown’s graduation celebration is that Commencement and Reunion Weekend are (in normal times) held together. Literally thousands of alumni come to campus each May to celebrate, see old friends, and march out through the Van Wickle Gates ahead of the graduating class. You, like all Brown alumni, will have the opportunity to experience the thrill of Commencement many times throughout your lives. We will return to this honored tradition when the pandemic is over.
Initial information about the adjustments to Commencement and Reunion Weekend is available on Brown’s Commencement website, and further details will be added in the coming weeks. If you have questions, please feel free to email the planning team at [email protected].
Brown remains steadfast in its commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of the Brown community as well as the greater Providence community. I look forward to the day when we have the opportunity to be together again in-person to mark these momentous occasions. Until then, let’s remain committed to supporting each other and upholding the strong community spirit that is so special at Brown.
Christina H. Paxson