The following letter was sent to the MIT community today by President L. Rafael Reif.
To the members of the MIT community,
The day before I was set to graduate from my Caracas high school, the city suffered a major earthquake. Buildings collapsed. There were serious casualties. Suddenly, it was impossible, physically and emotionally, to hold the traditional graduation ceremony we had all been counting on.
I still remember the pain and disappointment – so I write with special sympathy and great regret to let you know that, in a world so disrupted by Covid-19, it is clear we cannot conduct our traditional in-person celebration of Commencement, Hooding and Tech Reunions in late May.
To the Class of 2020 and all of our graduating students, to your proud families and faculty friends, and to our reunion-year alumni: I know you have been holding out hope that the recognition you have earned might still be presented in the usual way. We have all been hoping. So I expect this news may be sharply disappointing.
But I promise you, we are going to reinvent these wonderful rituals to honor and celebrate with you, in the best MIT spirit, in ways that make sense in this most unusual time.
Getting the details right will be important, and we know you will have questions; as plans develop, we will share updated information with everyone affected. (And if you already ordered regalia, you will receive a follow-up communication.)
For now, here are the broad strokes:
To honor the incredible hard work and accomplishments of our graduating students, Commencement 2020 will occur in two parts:
- An online event on May 29 to confer degrees and to celebrate our graduates. Those who plan our usual Commencement will co-design this program with our elected student leaders and some faculty.
- An in-person celebration, to be held at MIT at some point in the future. The students, faculty and staff on our Commencement Transition Committee – whom we charged to develop the programming for MIT Commencement in 2021 and beyond – will begin imagining the possibilities for this special Class of 2020 event, under the leadership of committee chair Professor Jim Poterba and bolstered by new student leaders. Proposing that graduates travel back to campus naturally raises questions around equity and financial burdens, so we will do our best to plan with these concerns in mind.
To our graduating students: If you have ideas for these events, please share them with us and your elected student leaders atCommencementIdeas@mit.edu.
Although 2020 Tech Reunions will not occur as they usually would, once we understand the larger circumstances more fully, we will explore ways to honor class milestones and bring the community together again. I am especially grateful to the many class leaders whose energetic outreach – over many years, and in distinctive ways in this challenging time – continues to keep classmates connected to each other and to the great global family of MIT.
If you were planning to attend Reunions, the MIT Alumni Association will be in touch soon to help you navigate these changes.
As the Covid-19 crisis unfolds, you will continue to hear from us – a lot. We are trying to learn what works best in terms of frequency and channels, and we hope to find the right path between “too much” and “not enough.” We will convey practical updates, and we will honor the human stories.
For now, I will simply say that what I most remember from that long-ago earthquake is the people around me – family, neighbors, teachers, friends – shaken to the core, but pulling together to help, with remarkable generosity, fortitude and kindness.
Those memories echo exactly what I have seen at MIT through the upheaval of these past weeks: students, staff, postdocs and faculty adjusting rapidly to this disconcerting new reality and doing everything they can to help each other and contribute to the greater public good.
In this difficult situation, the people of MIT have already endured and accomplished a great deal. The weeks and months ahead may hold harder challenges. From what I have seen, I have every expectation that our community will meet those new challenges with the same patience, courage, selflessness and grace.
May you all stay safe and well.
L. Rafael Reif