On March 26, President Paula Johnson announced in an email sent to Wellesley College seniors that the commencement ceremony held for the Class of 2021 would be conducted in a hybrid style. The event is slated to consist of a traditional, in-person commencement ceremony for students residing on campus and a virtual graduation for students studying remotely. According to President Johnson’s email, the event will attempt to resemble a traditional Wellesley commencement to the greatest extent possible while also incorporating remote students.
Many seniors are questioning why the College committed to a plan that was originally released in December, back when Massachusetts was exceeding more than 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day and vaccinations had barely just begun. Now, almost five months later, other institutions in Massachusetts such as MIT, Northeastern University and Smith College have announced fully in-person commencement ceremonies, and all Americans age 16 or older are eligible for the vaccine. .
Lizzy Kong ’21 expressed her confusion regarding Wellesley’s choice to continue forward with the plan from December despite vaccine distribution rates and in-person commencements at surrounding schools. Kong, who is studying on campus this semester, also expressed her frustration about the lack of inclusion of remote seniors and their families.
“ I was hoping that with all of this news, the administration might be able to keep an open mind [and] hold off on anything definitive about commencement,” Kong said. “So when they did send that email, it just was kind of like a slap in the face.”
Other seniors, such as Abigail Taiwo ’21, were not surprised about the administration’s decision to not offer an in-person commencement ceremony for students studying remotely.
“Ever since the pandemic started, I’ve lowered my expectations for things,” she said adding that she anticipated that commencement was going to be hybrid.
Taiwo, who is studying remotely, also said that ”there seems to be more emphasis on just focusing on the people who are on campus and neglecting everyone who is off-campus.”
Mona Smucker ’21 is also studying remotely, but nearby.
“I’m actually in Boston, so I feel like [not being able to attend commencement] is even more frustrating,” Smucker said. “For most of us, it wasn’t really a choice whether or not we came off or on campus. It was due to either finances or [for me] it was because I was signed into a lease and I couldn’t break it.”
In a statement to The News, the Office of Communications explained why the school still opted for a virtual commencement for seniors, rather than switching course to an in-person celebration with or without guests.
“Our seniors are studying all over the world and from a public health perspective at this time, it would not be responsible to encourage them to travel, and to invite so many people to our campus,” the statement read.
The statement added that at this time there are not any plans to change the current graduation ceremony, regardless of student vaccination efforts or a decline in COVID-19 cases.
Despite the College’s justifications, however, some seniors believe that public health is not the only motivator for a hybrid-style commencement, given that almost all students will have access to vaccines by the time commencement occurs.
“It seems more like a money issue … it’s frustrating that we have probably the best capability of almost any college around here to do it safely,” Smucker said. “We are pretty rich.”
Other seniors have also raised the question as to why Wellesley is not putting funding that would otherwise be spent on end-of-the-year events into allowing remote students to join the commencement ceremony.
“We’re not getting all of these things that we usually get, so where’s our extra money going? If it’s not put into good efforts to get off-campus seniors to go to their own graduation, then I don’t understand what it possibly could [be spent on],” Kong said.
Some seniors also believe that for remote students, the College’s disregard for their experience will leave a sour stain on their Wellesley experience for years to come.
“A lot of these people are not going to want … anything that has to do with Wellesley after they graduate. I know personally, they’re gonna hit me with that five-year reunion notification, [and] I’m going to delete the email,” Taiwo said. “The current me right now cannot say I would recommend Wellesley to other students, because I don’t think they would treat you fairly … At Wellesley, you get nothing. There’s no care package. Just nothing.”
Despite student outcry and a hopeful future ahead, Wellesley’s administration has said they will not be re-evaluating its plans. The College cites public health and the short break between Term 4 ending and commencement as the biggest roadblocks preventing a fully in-person ceremony at this time.