College Plans to Host In-Person Commencement on May 30

The college intends to have an in-person commencement ceremony for the class of 2021, President Biddy Martin announced in an email to the college community on March 19. All seniors, regardless of their current location, are invited to participate. Seniors may also invite two guests to the ceremony, though individuals arriving from off-campus must comply with an intensive testing protocol prior to the event. The possibility of an in-person ceremony is dependent on the course of the pandemic as well as state regulations. 

The graduation ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021E have been anything but normal. Last spring, after being forced home due to the pandemic, seniors participated in a virtual celebration ceremony on May 31. The college sent each member of the graduating class a special package containing a congratulatory letter from Martin, a class of 2020 baseball cap, a commemorative glass, a stuffed mammoth toy, a mortarboard with a 2020 tassel and an aerial photo of the campus in the form of a jigsaw puzzle. At the virtual event, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a surprise appearance and bestowed her congratulations to the class. 

Members of the class of 2020 were also given the choice to participate in a fully-fledged commencement ceremony after the pandemic. In Martin’s recent email, she noted that the college is currently “working on plans for an in-person celebration of the Class of 2020.”

The 2021E ceremony also took place virtually in December of 2020.

Seniors who are currently studying remotely may only access campus on Sunday, May 30, which is the scheduled date for the ceremony. Commencement has historically taken place on the first-year quadrangle. Physical distancing guidelines, however, even with a reduced number of attendees, may force the ceremony to move to a different location for 2021. The class of 2021 must move out immediately after commencement. Dean of Students Liz Agosto will relay move-out information to seniors before the ceremony.

The 2021 commencement will mark an end to a less-than-ideal college experience for the class of 2021. Nonetheless, seniors are pleasantly surprised by the prospect of an in-person experience.

Alicia Ugenti ’21 is a first-generation college student who plans to attend the ceremony with her parents. “I’m surprised,” she said. “I always felt like we would have a commencement in-person. But I know that some other schools aren’t.”

“I’m a first-generation student,” Ugenti added, “so it really means a lot for me to walk across the stage, especially at a school like Amherst, and especially after a very tremulous four years.”

“It was something that I had put out of my mind, because I just assumed that it wouldn’t be possible,” echoed Danielle Zimber ’21. 

Zimber noted, however, that the announcement brought about a rush to book plane tickets and hotel rooms. “Twenty minutes after the email was sent, it seemed like all the hotels were already booked,” she said.

Nonetheless, she acknowledged the circumstances surrounding the timing of the decision. “I think that they’re responding to the information as they receive it,” she said. 

“It feels great that there will be a ceremony to mark one [of] the most turbulent years that I think any of us have experienced. I’m not usually one for graduations or events like this, and I was actually really surprised by just how excited I was for this to happen.”