Spring semester to start as scheduled; College plans to hold in-person commencement

The spring semester will start as previously scheduled, with students returning to campus beginning Feb. 10, President of the College Maud S. Mandel and Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom announced today in an email to students, staff, and faculty. Additionally, the College plans to hold an in-person commencement for seniors, albeit with no off-campus guests. 

This announcement comes after a Jan. 15 email in which Sandstrom had said that the College might consider delaying the semester if the COVID-19 situation in Massachusetts and nationwide continued to worsen.

Massachusetts reported 3,320 COVID-19 cases and 84 COVID deaths yesterday alone. However, that represents a 36 percent drop in cases over a 14-day period, coming off of a statewide peak in early January. Nationwide, new cases are similarly dropping from their early January crest, although the daily death toll remains above 4,000.

Today’s email also noted that, because of new emergent strains of the virus, as well as increased rates of infection in Massachusetts, the College plans to institute more stringent regulations regarding social distancing and off-campus activity than in the fall. The College has already mandated that all returning students provide a negative test result before arriving on campus and announced that interactions between members of different pods will be more limited. In the Jan. 15 email to students, Sandstrom said that during an initial “campus quarantine” period, students will not be allowed to socialize indoors with people from outside of their pod, unlike in the fall.

In-person commencement plans

Spring 2021 graduates who are studying remotely in the spring will be allowed to return to campus and participate in the in-person commencement ceremony, provided that they quarantine and test negative for COVID-19. Returning seniors will have access to on-campus housing, and the College will help fund travel costs for those receiving financial aid. 

The planned commencement ceremony will be limited to graduating seniors, and Senior Week events will be smaller and condensed into a single weekend. Families, other off-campus guests, and students who are not graduating this spring will not be allowed to attend. The ceremony will be livestreamed.

“We know this is disappointing news, and as parents we recognize how difficult it is not to be able to attend your own student’s graduation,” Mandel and Sandstrom wrote. “Nevertheless, current conditions nationally and locally make it too risky to consider a larger gathering, and our focus is on ensuring the seniors can have their best day, while letting you participate in the safest way possible.”

The College’s decision to not allow off-campus guests at commencement is “definite,” according to Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische. 

Senior Week traditions will look different this year, with events like the dinner dance at Mount Hope and the Champagne Brunch likely to be canceled. Senior class officers will organize smaller events, held over the span of a weekend rather than a full week, to ensure safer celebrations.

Mandel and Sandstrom also said that members of the Class of 2020 would not be able to celebrate their previously postponed commencement on campus this year. “Given our regretful decisions to disallow off-campus guests for Commencement 2021 and to cancel this spring’s reunions, it’s too soon to contemplate inviting the Class of 2020 back home,” they wrote.

This decision comes despite earlier hopes the College expressed last spring of rescheduling the Class of 2020’s commencement to summer 2021.

This is a developing story. The Record will continue to report on the College’s plans for the spring semester and commencement as more information becomes available. Reader questions can be submitted to [email protected].