In March, 2020, Georgetown, along with many other universities halted in-person classes on its campuses. The vast majority of students retreated to their homes and continued their courses using a variety of internet-based resources (e.g., Zoom, Canvas).
Much has been written about the nature of that disruption to higher education. Faculty and staff turned the university into a largely online institution in a matter of days. Course delivery had to be redesigned for many classes. All interaction was computer-mediated in one way or another, office hours, student group work, etc.. Georgetown was fortunate in having a policy on “instructional continuity,” largely internet-assisted for short-term weather events. However, faculty and students had to jointly define what “instructional continuity” should mean for weeks and weeks of work.
Only after more experience with this new mode of higher education did it become clear that there were fatigue and isolation issues that arose among students, faculty, and staff. Ongoing Georgetown surveys suggested engagement of students declined over the term. Faculty reported working more hours on each class based on greater outreach to students and preparation time for the online meetings.
One cohort of students suffered an unusual shock. Those who completed their degree requirements in May 2020 were robbed of the joy of an in-person commencement. Commencements are one manifestation of the pomp and circumstance of academia. Faculty in regalia signifying their PhD institutions. Graduates in their graduation robes, with hoods and colors signifying their degree to be awarded. PhD candidates have a special ceremony for the “hooding,” the placement of the PhD hood over the robe of the new “Doctor.” Thousands of families and friends assembled to celebrate the achievement of their loved ones. It’s all joy.
Given the legitimate concern that thousands of then-unvaccinated people at Georgetown commencements could threaten the health of many, the students completing their degrees that spring term were celebrated in a Zoom-based event. However, at that time, President DeGioia pledged to invite all those graduates back to campus for an in-person event celebrating their achievements.
This event will occur on Saturday May 28, 2022, on Healy Lawn. There will be an undergraduate ceremony at 9:00AM and a graduate and professional ceremony at 3:00PM.
Of course, not all graduates will attend the event, but we’re encouraging all to return to the university to receive the congratulations in-person that is due to them. We want to create as much of the feel of a traditional commencement as possible. Faculty and staff are invited and encouraged to attend. Many of the students mentioned the desire to reconnect to beloved faculty and staff who assisted them during their studies.
Everything in the two ceremonies will underscore the communal, extended, and enduring nature of the University, including an academic procession, guest speakers, reflections by President DeGioia, presentation of individual graduates, and a post commencement reception.
It is impossible to magically recreate all aspects of a Spring, 2020, commencement, but we’re hoping that the May 28 events will provide some lasting memories to those who can attend.