Due to pandemic, local universities take a variety of approaches to celebrate commencement

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Graduation season will have less pomp and circumstance this year because the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented public gatherings, and that has prompted local colleges and universities to take a variety of approaches to marking the occasion for their students.

Some institutions are going online to hold virtual graduation ceremonies with well-known speakers. Johns Hopkins University opted for some techie star power by selecting former Maryland resident Alexis Ohanian–co-founder of Reddit and husband of tennis superstar Serena Williams–to address its university-wide ceremony for more than 9,000 graduates on May 21.

“Been working on my speech for a little while now, adapting to the circumstances we’re now facing,” Ohanian tweeted a message aimed at Hopkins seniors. “Though I wish we could celebrate your achievement in person, I’m grateful to join your graduation exercises digitally.”

Nine Hopkins schools will have separate virtual graduation ceremonies with their own speakers over the next week, including the Peabody Conservatory, School of Medicine, School of Nursing, Carey Business School and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Morgan State University postponed its graduation ceremonies until the fall but will have a “Virtual Recognition Ceremony” tomorrow honoring both graduate school students and graduating seniors, with remarks by University president David Wilson and Provost Lesia Crumpton-Young and messages from all of the school’s deans.

The Maryland Institute College of Art cancelled its May 18 ceremony at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and scheduled virtual graduation events for June 25 and 26. It is also sending a “Commencement Care Package” to graduating seniors, including tickets, programs and honor cords that would have been souvenirs on graduation day.

MICA also has gone online and created a virtual exhibit called “MICA Grad Show 2020” to present the “culminating work” of more than 150 graduating artists, designers, filmmakers and others who normally would cap their student careers with in-person displays. Another Virtual Graduation Exhibition is being held from June 22 to 26.

McDaniel College is having virtual celebrations and receptions throughout the week of May 18.

In these cases, institution leaders are doing what they can to avert the phenomenon that The Chronicle of Higher Education warned about in a recent headline: “COVID-19 Robs Graduates of a Meaningful Milestone.”

“We deeply regret that we will not be able to celebrate in person with our graduating seniors,” Hopkins president Ronald Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar said in a message about the virtual ceremony. “But in true Hopkins fashion, we will summon our optimism and creativity to mark that important milestone in a way that expresses the great joy and pride we take” in their accomplishments.”

Although Morgan State can’t give students a traditional commencement ceremony this spring, “we will still honor them, for now virtually, until we are able to provide them with a full graduation experience in the fall,” Wilson said in a statement.

“We want all of our graduates and their families to watch online on May 16, as we let them know that they are a special class amid very special circumstances,” he added. “Theirs will be a graduation class remembered by history.”

Elsewhere in the region, ceremonies have been put off until next year or cancelled altogether. Goucher College, Loyola University of Maryland and Towson University are among the institutions that called off ceremonies this spring.

In Annapolis, the U. S. Naval Academy has canceled all Commissioning Week 2020 public events, which were scheduled to begin today.

The following is a roundup showing what local colleges and universities are doing or not doing to mark Graduation 2020, based on information posted on their websites:

Coppin State University: The school announced the commencement ceremony will be rescheduled, but it has not yet picked a date.

Goucher College: Its ceremony has been pushed back until the fall, with a speaker to be determined.

Loyola University Maryland: Loyola postponed the ceremony set for set for May 16 at 11 a.m. at the Royal Farms Arena, with playwright, actress and professor Anna Deavere Smith as the commencement speaker. A new date is to be determined. “You will have a Commencement, even if the timing of those festivities is beyond our control at this moment,” The Rev. Brian Linnane, Loyola’s president, wrote in a message to the Loyola community.

Morgan State University: Morgan State will hold a pre-recorded “Virtual Recognition Ceremony” on May 16 at 10 a.m. with messages from President David K. Wilson, Provost Lesia Crumpton-Young and all of the deans at Morgan State, plus a “special surprise” at the end. It will be viewable on Morgan’s YouTube channel and commencement website. Morgan’s in-person commencement, originally set for May 16, has been rescheduled to Oct. 15, during Homecoming Week, at Hughes Memorial Stadium. Because the May 16 event is not a virtual replacement of the commencement ceremony, officials stress, names of graduating students will not be called or displayed.

Maryland Institute College of Art: The May 18 undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall have been cancelled, and the college has scheduled “virtual graduation events” for June 25 and 26. A “Commencement Care Package,” including tickets, programs and honor cords, will be sent to graduating seniors, and a virtual exhibit of work by more than 150 students, called “MICA Grad Show 2020,” is on display at micagradshow.com. A “Virtual Graduation Exhibition” will be held from June 22 to 26.

McDaniel College: McDaniel’s Spring 2020 commencement ceremony has been postponed from May 23 to the Spring of 2021. Virtual celebrations and receptions will be held throughout the week of May 18.

Stevenson University: The school has postponed commencement and is still finalizing new plans.

Towson University: Its ceremony has been postponed until the fall.

University of Maryland Baltimore and University of Maryland Baltimore County: No in-person ceremonies.

University of Baltimore: The May 2020 commencement ceremony has been postponed and will be rescheduled at a date to be determined.

U.S. Naval Academy: The Naval Academy cancelled all Commissioning Week 2020 public events. Festivities had been scheduled to start May 15 and end with graduation on May 22. Other traditional class milestone events, including the Herndon Climb and Ring Dance, have been postponed.

Johns Hopkins University: A virtual university-wide Commencement Ceremony will be held May 21 starting at 11 a.m., with Hopkins conferring undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to students in nine divisions. Formal remarks will be given by President Ronald Daniels, board of trustees chair Lou Forster and others, with Ohanian as the Commencement speakerHopkins is not awarding honorary degrees this spring, although Ohanian will receive one at the university’s 2021 Commencement.

Other Hopkins graduation ceremonies this month include:

School of Nursing: A virtual commencement ceremony will be held on May 18; the speaker is U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois.

Bloomberg School of Public Health: A virtual commencement on May 19. Guest speaker is Dr. Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green, a nonprofit that identifies and supports emerging community leaders who will “change the world for the better.” Remarks by Dean Ellen Mackenzie and Student Assembly President Alisa Atkins.

Carey Business School: Its virtual commencement ceremony is on May 19.

G.W.C. Whiting School of Engineering: Commencement for undergraduates is part of the university-wide commencement on May 21. A virtual Master’s Degree ceremony will be on May 19.  The featured speaker is Dale Bennett, executive vice president of Rotary and Mission Systems at Lockheed Martin.

Peabody Conservatory: Virtual Commencement on May 20. Its speaker is Alex Ross, writer and music critic.

Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies: Virtual commencement on May 20. Speaker: Fiona Hill, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution

School of Education: Virtual commencement on May 20. Speaker: R. Christopher Hoehn-Saric Sr., Managing director and co-founder of Sterling Partners and a Hopkins Trustee Emeritus.

School of Medicine: A virtual commencement on May 20. The speaker is Bonnie Bassler, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and professor at Princeton University.

Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences: Its virtual commencement for undergraduates is part of the university-wide ceremony on May 21. There will be a separate virtual Master’s Degree Ceremony on May 20.

Ed Gunts


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