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Harvard postpones commencement amid coronavirus pandemic, plans online event May 28

Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow, announced the indefinite postponement and online event in a letter Friday

Harvard University commencement, graduates walk past John Harvard statue in Harvard yard. (FILE PHOTO)
Harvard University commencement, graduates walk past John Harvard statue in Harvard yard. (FILE PHOTO)Ryan, David L. Globe Staff

Harvard University will postpone its commencement exercises and hold an online event May 28 amid the coronavirus pandemic, the school’s president announced Friday.

Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow, announced the unprecedented move in a letter to the university community.

He said a traditional cap-and-gown ceremony would be held at a later date once it’s safe to resume gathering in large groups.

“No virtual gathering can possibly match the splendor of our usual festivities, but we will come together online on Thursday, May 28, to award degrees so that everyone will graduate as expected,” Bacow wrote. “Each School at Harvard will also host its own special online event and afterwards deliver diplomas through the mail.”

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Bacow lamented that he couldn’t say precisely when the in-person ceremony will go forward, but vowed that when it does, school officials “intend for this ceremony to have all of the pomp, circumstance, and tradition that is typical of a Harvard commencement — with as many of the traditional campus festivities that typically precede commencement as possible.”

Harvard, like legions of other colleges nationwide, told students earlier this month not to return to campus after spring break ends March 23, and to take their classes online.

The last time the university was forced to pivot midway through the year was in the 1940s, in the midst of World War II, when the campus was given over to military training.

“While commencement is a happy occasion for all of us, it has special meaning to the members of the Harvard College Class of 2020,” Bacow wrote Friday. “We recognize that delaying the ceremony may impose new burdens on some of our undergraduates. We will endeavor in our planning to enable as many students as possible to return to campus to be awarded their first degrees in the company of their friends and classmates.“

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Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.