Feb. 23, 2021

Dear Members and Families of the Class of 2021,

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. At the same time, I want you to know that we are committed to making your graduation a meaningful experience and a celebration of your achievements. We will have a virtual Commencement ceremony with both live and prerecorded portions on Sunday, May 23, 2021. In addition to this unified ceremony, there may be other virtual events and ceremonies in the days leading up to our unified Commencement.

We did not come to this decision lightly, and we all hoped for a different outcome. But COVID-19 is still affecting our lives, with over 1,000 new infections reported each day in Massachusetts alone. The vaccine rollout has been slow, new variants of the virus have emerged, and state guidelines still limit the number of people who can gather, even outdoors, to just 25 people. We cannot predict how these factors will change over the coming weeks and months. Rather than continue to prolong the decision-making process, hoping the course of the pandemic improves or that state guidelines change dramatically, we want to be able to spend time now planning for the best virtual experience possible.

Before arriving at this decision, we looked at many different options for having some kind of in-person Commencement. Given health and safety restrictions, any in-person option would exclude family or guests coming to campus. We would not be able to include graduating seniors who have not been on campus and part of our testing protocols, which would make this an unsatisfactory situation. 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.

We will work to make this year’s Commencement a meaningful celebration — one that you will be able to enjoy together with your family. While we have much to work out, we have more time for planning than we did last year, and we are able to consult with professionals who can help us make this the kind of event we can all enjoy and remember. I am also calling on all of you to tap the spirit of true Brandeisian ingenuity and offer any suggestions you might have for the celebration. Please use this form if you would like to offer ideas for how to make this Commencement meaningful for you and your families.

In addition to a virtual Commencement, we will be working on how to celebrate your graduation in person at some future point when we can safely gather together. In the meantime, I am extending an open invitation to you to attend any future in-person Commencement ceremony. We will establish a new tradition: recognizing members of the Classes of 2020 and 2021 who are present at any future Commencement. It is the least we can do to honor your achievements at Brandeis.

I am proud of how you have risen to this unforeseen COVID-19 challenge. The format of our ceremony is not nearly as important as what it represents — an acknowledgment of your hard work and accomplishments over the past four years. I look forward to recognizing you as a graduating member of the Class of 2021.

Best wishes,

Ron Liebowitz