March 16, 2020
The University of Pennsylvania is the first college in the Philadelphia region to cancel its on-campus commencement ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic. The school announced on Monday that instead the 2020 graduation will be held virtually and broadcast online.
The ceremony was scheduled for Franklin Field as part of Penn's commencement and alumni weekend set for May 16-18.
The decision comes just a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control urged events of 50 or more people scheduled during the next eight weeks to be canceled or postponed. In a letter posted online, Penn's president Amy Gutmann wrote that the college "cannot responsibly plan to bring thousands of people to campus."
"Given the uncertainty of when it might again be safe to bring such large groups together, and the rapidly changing scale of the pandemic," Gutmann said, "we know that this change is the only responsible action we can take.
"Many things have rapidly changed in our world in the past few weeks, and we know how difficult and confusing this can be," Gutmann continued. "Commencement is such an important tradition at Penn, a time of abundant joy and pride, where we all publicly celebrate the extraordinary achievements of our graduates. While it will not be the same as our traditional ceremony, we are committed to finding the best way possible to recognize the achievements of the Class of 2020, and we will strive to make the virtual event as meaningful and celebratory as the circumstances permit."
Penn is considering an on-campus celebration for the 2020 graduates in the fall, Gutman said, but no other details have been revealed at this point.
Penn's virtual graduation will take place the same dates as the traditional commencement has been scheduled in two months.
"I regret that this semester has been upended in so many ways," Gutmann said. "But in our lifetime the world has not faced a challenge as unique and complicated as the one that we currently confront. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to conclude the semester in a safe and positive way."
"Together we will make it work," Gutmann continued. "It is one of the countless reasons I'm so proud of everyone in the Penn family."
Penn is having students complete the remainder of the spring semester, including final exams, remotely, and all classes are being conducted online to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 across campus.
That decision was made while the university was on spring break. Students who were away from the school were advised not to return to campus, and those who had remained at the University City campus had to leave by Sunday.
College officials are coordinating with students off campus to come collect their belongings, and the school has said that it will support students living in college housing who are unable to return home for various reasons.
Penn's medical, dental, veterinary and nursing students who are doing clinical rotations will continue those and be provided additional information from their respective deans.