Brandeis Plans Virtual Commencement Ceremony for Spring

The celebration, featuring both prerecorded and live events, will be held May 23.

Image from a past Commencement, showing graduates wearing mortarboards (shot from behind), looking toward colorful banners representing Commencement ceremonies from years past.
Mike Lovett

For the second year in a row, concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic are forcing Brandeis and many other universities to forgo in-person graduation ceremonies. Instead, Brandeis’ main Commencement ceremony will be held virtually on Sunday, May 23. Smaller virtual ceremonies for majors, programs and graduate schools will take place over several days.

In a Feb. 23 letter to graduating students and their families, President Ron Liebowitz wrote, “I know how much all of you deserve and desire the special milestone event in your lives that an in-person, traditional Commencement ceremony represents. You have managed your academic and social lives admirably and endured a global pandemic. Unfortunately, and with disappointment, I am writing to let you know that we will not be able to have such an event for you this spring.”

The university considered many scenarios for an in-person ceremony but ultimately concluded it couldn’t be done without creating unacceptable risks, due to the unpredictable course of the pandemic. State restrictions on gathering sizes and other safety requirements also posed significant obstacles.

“Given health and safety restrictions, any in-person option would exclude family or guests coming to campus,” Liebowitz wrote. “We would not be able to include graduating seniors who have not been on campus and part of our testing protocols [...]. Faculty and staff would be asked to participate in an event that could put them at risk. None of this would be consistent with the careful and successful approach we have taken with other aspects of our response to COVID-19.”

During the main ceremony, public-interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson will receive an honorary degree and deliver the 70th Commencement address. Founder and executive director of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned.

Three other honorees will join the ceremonies virtually: philanthropist Ellen Gordon ’65, CEO and chair of Tootsie Roll Industries; Lynn Schusterman, founder and chair emerita of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; and Robert Zimmer ’68, president of the University of Chicago.

Lawyer Herman Hemingway ’53, who died in December, will also be honored. Hemingway was the first Black man to graduate from Brandeis.