Principles for Commencement 2021 Planning

Commencement is an important and momentous occasion for graduating students. The COVID 19 pandemic has already disrupted this set of events for one graduating cohort, and it is our strong hope to provide some level of in-person events for the Class of 2021 (undergraduate, graduate and medical). Planning and carrying-out Commencement is a complicated, multi layered and broadly distributed process in a normal year, and the health and safety considerations which will drive much of the planning for 2021 make this Commencement significantly more challenging. The principles listed here are intended to guide planning over the short time period leading up to May 1-2, with the knowledge and expectation that what the University wants and can do will have to be adjusted during that time frame due to the evolving nature of the pandemic.

  • Commencement 2021 will be planned and held in a manner that is healthy and safe, including being fully compliant with the University’s COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy and the rules and regulations governing events promulgated by the State of Rhode Island. For the purposes of effective and efficient planning, the University will assume in particular that the state limit on attendance at outdoor venues of assembly (currently 125 as of late February 2021) will be increased as conditions improve over the coming months. If that attendance limit is not increased by the end of March a re-assessment of what is feasible will need to take place.
  • The second priority (behind health and safety) will be the experience of graduating students. Commencement is a recognition and celebration of their academic accomplishments, and they will be the focus of our planning efforts and events.
  • In planning healthy and safe in-person events, the University will seek to prioritize important Brown traditions to the fullest extent possible, knowing that many will not be& feasible given the pandemic. Holding any part of Commencement at the Meeting House, for example, is not feasible given the lack of sufficient space for social distancing. Walking out the Van Wickle Gates is essential, but not in the traditional procession with College Hill lined on each side. It will be necessary in planning to be both flexible and creative in preserving the critical elements of a Brown Commencement while ensuring that all health and safety standards are met. 
  • University-level planning for Commencement will focus on three in-person events: College Ceremony; Graduate School (Masters and PhD) Ceremony; and Alpert Medical School Ceremony. Given the complexity and challenge of these three events alone, no other large-scale in-person events are planned. Key events like Baccalaureate can be planned by the appropriate department (such as the Chaplain’s Office) to take place virtually, and some limited elements may be integrated where appropriate within the three in-person events. 
  • Given the pandemic, in-person events will have virtual components, such as speakers or honorary degree recipients who cannot or do not wish to attend in-person. Planning will focus on taking advantage of and leveraging the virtual components that can be integrated into the live program to make the ceremonies as special as possible, honor and celebrate student accomplishment, and emphasize the Brown feel and tradition of the program. 
  • Families and guests will not be allowed (absent a marked improvement in public health conditions). Events will be live streamed wherever possible to provide opportunities for families and guests to be involved. Consideration will be given in planning to how to appropriately manage family and guests, and others, who may show up regardless. 
  • Events will be planned in a manner which is compliant with the University’s COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy. As of late February the following are key considerations for compliance: 
    • Commencement events with in-person components will be limited to those authorized and approved by the University. The number of such events will be very few, and it is anticipated that only events which can take place outdoors will be approved. Departments are free and strongly encouraged to schedule virtual events to celebrate Commencement and do not need approval to do so. 
    • Event attendance will not exceed the maximum capacity allowed by the State (see planning assumption above). 
    • All Brown University participants must be actively enrolled in and compliant with the University’s COVID-19 testing program (graduating Warren Alpert Medical School students are not enrolled in testing given their clinical rotations and are eligible to be vaccinated). Graduating students who are currently studying remotely and graduate students who completed their degrees in October or February may only participate in Commencement if they can be in Providence and quarantine and participate in the testing program for at least ten (10) days prior to Commencement (entering testing no later than April 21, 2021). Instructions will be shared with remote students for how to enroll in the testing program, and the College’s E-Gap team will reach out directly to undergraduate students with high  demonstrated financial need to help support their return to campus for Commencement.
    • Participants who are external to the University community (honorary degree or medal recipients, for example) most likely will choose to participate virtually. Any who wish to participate in-person will need to comply with state regulations regarding travel to Rhode Island and health standards for visitors to campus (e.g., recent negative test, documentation of vaccination, etc). Vendors will need to comply with University regulations and policies regarding vendors on campus. The number of external participants will be kept to the minimum level possible and reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 
    • All participants will wear masks at all times. Exceptions allowed only for speakers while speaking, and at a podium sufficiently distanced from others. 
    • Social distancing will be required and enforced. Participants will not be seated or stand closer than six feet apart. 
    • All participants must bring and use their own personal water bottles, masks and  hand sanitizer, and be instructed not share that equipment with any other participant(s). 
    • Interaction between participants must be strictly limited. Handshaking, hugs, and other traditional Commencement celebratory activities that bring individuals in close proximity are not allowed. 
  • Departmental Ceremonies will not be allowed in-person due to the challenge of overseeing and staffing such a large number of events and ensuring compliance with health and safety standards. Undergraduate students will receive their diploma and Commencement program by mail after the weekend. Departments will be encouraged to hold virtual celebrations with their concentrators, which can take place during the week preceding Commencement. 
  • The graduate student ceremony cannot include presentation of diplomas as the logistics of doing so safely given the number of graduates are too difficult. They also will have to be delivered by mail after the weekend. The Medical School ceremony may be small enough, and most if not all participants will have been vaccinated, to allow for contactless presentation, and a plan for doing so will be developed and assessed. 
  • A plan is being developed and assessed regarding safe distribution of keepsake regalia to graduating students, including keepsake hoods for graduate and medical students. Graduate and medical students have the option of purchasing a regular hood if they wish (same as in regular years, about 20% of doctoral students do and most others do not).