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Commencement 2020

Dear members of the Emerson community,

When we began to both realize and then experience just how profoundly the COVID-19 crisis would alter this spring semester in new and unprecedented ways—from students having to miss out on long-planned international study opportunities, to moving all of our classes, and most College business, to an online environment—I worried that Commencement would be next in the long list of events and milestones that would be affected.

Regretfully, I write to you today to inform you that Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement Weekend activities and events, scheduled for Saturday, May 9, and Sunday, May 10, will in fact be postponed this year. No doubt, this news comes to you already anticipated as most colleges and universities have recently announced postponement of their commencement exercises.

It is especially difficult to write about the deferral of these ceremonies because Commencement marks the culmination of all that our students, families, and faculty have worked so hard to achieve, and it is a milestone that our entire community looks forward to all year long. However, I also realize that students and families need to know and plan for these changes as soon as possible, which is why we decided to announce this news as soon as we could.

While the traditional exercises will be postponed, I want you to know that we are committed to celebrating this year’s graduating class, and the College is exploring ways to honor the achievements of the Class of 2020.  This includes plans for a virtual ceremony that will take place as close to our original Commencement date as possible; we will share more information on the virtual event, as well as the conferral of diplomas to graduating students, as soon as it is available. In addition, we are also considering a fall date for an in-person event, once we know it is safe to ask students, friends, and family to gather.

Although a virtual ceremony cannot replace an in-person one, I trust that the creativity of our community, and the individuality and indomitable spirit represented by the members of the Class of 2020, will make our event memorable just the same.

To our graduating students, I hope you will allow me to offer a few words.

For the last twenty-nine years, I have presided over commencement at three colleges – 21 years as president. It is an ancient spring ritual that predates the founding of this America. It augurs renewal and promise and while it pays tribute to achievements, it looks forward with hope.

“Hope is the pillar that holds up the world / Hope is the dream of a waking [person],” Pliny the Elder, the ancient poet once wrote. 

Yes, of course, your life here has been about preparing for the future – a future that is ever receding. 

Yet, my advice to you as you make preparations for your various futures; please do not neglect the obligation that you have to the present as well.

You live in an unprecedented time in recent human history, one that has exacted personal sacrifices all over the world.

In a profound sense, this moment will ask you to look past the confusion of the present and begin – with the aid of friends, family and your education at Emerson – to envision a new future for yourselves and the world in which we live.

Please remember, especially in the darkest of hours, that this awful and terrible crisis nonetheless holds open the promise of a life of meaningful discovery and action.

Seize it, for there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow, a hope borne on the wings of faith in the resiliency of the human spirit.

I truly wish it had turned out otherwise.

However, please know that your education here will be as John Henry Newman described it: “an illumination, a habit, a personal possession, an inward endowment.” In all that you do, remain faithful both to the education you have earned and to the legacy that you have inherited.   Share your talents and resources with those who have not had the good fortune to participate in the bounty of life.  If you do these things, you and the world around you will endure.

I look forward to seeing you again.

With gratitude,
Lee Pelton

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