As the conclusion of the spring semester approaches, I write to share with you the planning process for this year’s Commencement Ceremonies.
Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, University personnel have explored and examined a wide array of options about how to best approach Commencement in a COVID-19 compliant, safe, meaningful, and memorable manner. We have heard from multiple campus constituencies regarding what each wants most from an in-person ceremony. We affirm that all graduating students deserve their moment of recognition and celebration, and we share in the unbridled joy that each Commencement brings to the extended St. John’s family. We are proud of our graduating students and their achievements.
As I previously communicated to the campus community, from Monday, May 17 to Sunday, May 23, St. John’s will host school-specific “Virtual Commencement and Degree Conferral Ceremonies.” In addition, we are planning in-person celebrations in the future—hopefully later this summer—when public health guidelines permit us to gather in larger numbers.
Please be assured that by the end of the spring semester—if not sooner—the University will communicate our still developing plans to host an in-person commencement later this summer when we anticipate that public assembly guidelines will be expanded to accommodate larger gatherings than currently permitted.
The Virtual Commencement and Degree Conferral Ceremonies will fulfill the traditional academic protocols that—upon completion of required academic coursework—make individuals official college graduates. The still-to-be-scheduled in-person events will be celebratory occasions to warmly welcome graduates into the family of St. John’s alumni.
Presently, New York State guidelines for “non-residential social gatherings” are limited to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. If that public assembly formula were to remain unchanged by mid-May, to accommodate our more than 4,000 graduates, the University would have to schedule approximately 23 individual outdoor ceremonies or over 40 individual indoor ceremonies for only students. No guests would be permitted to attend. This is not how we believe you want to celebrate your graduation.
Also, it is important to note—per current NYS guidelines—expanded capacity restrictions for other sports venues, entertainment venues, and performing arts venues do not apply to hosting commencement ceremonies. To date, the guidance received from NYS is ever-changing and, vague with respect to commencement ceremonies. Because NYS public health guidelines for events continue to change constantly, we are now preparing for several possible event scenarios.
All of our planning scenarios include that all in-person events will take place at the Queens Campus for all members of the Class of 2021. What school/college-specific ceremonies might look like will depend on further guidance from New York State. In the interim, we will regularly provide updates to the campus community so that all parties involved in Commencement 2021 may plan accordingly.
As for the Class of 2020, the University will fulfill its pledge to provide a unique and dedicated in-person Commencement for those who would have celebrated their graduation last year. The timing of that event(s) will be announced at a future date as NYS guidelines become clearer.
The Office of University Events has already communicated with graduating students regarding plans for how St. John’s will celebrate commencement in a virtual format in May and options to recognize student achievements in ways befitting this significant milestone. For more information and updates, please visit the Commencement website and please be sure to check your University email account regularly.
Please be assured that the University is doing all that we can to deliver an in-person Commencement when permitted to have larger gatherings. It is my sincere hope and prayer that Commencement for the Class of 2021 and for the Class of 2020 will not only demonstrate the pride of St. John’s University, but the spirit of resilience that is a hallmark of our alumni – past, present, and future.
Thank you for your patience and for your continued cooperation to keep the St. John’s community safe and healthy. I know that the decision to have a virtual ceremony caused disappointment and dismay. Yet after examining all the options, we believe this is the only reasonable path forward. In addition to the toll that the pandemic has taken on our physical health, it has also taken a toll on our psychic health. We have not been able to gather as a community to celebrate important moments of passage: funerals, weddings, baptisms, retirements, and graduations. These losses continue to cause us to grieve. As we approach this Easter break, we are all looking for signs of new life and for hope. For those of us who are Christian, the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection is the ultimate promise that love and life are stronger than death. And no matter what our faith, we continue to see signs of hope in the works of service that so many are doing to keep our community safe and cared for. That is the spirit of our Vincentian spirit in action.