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Northeastern plans for an in-person Commencement in 2021

Photo by Cody O'Loughlin for Northeastern University

Northeastern University announced preliminary plans to hold outdoor Commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021 at a premier venue in Boston this May. The university is also working with members of the Class of 2020 on the possibility of a Boston-based celebration this spring to honor their achievements and make up for the loss of a Commencement ceremony last spring.

The announcement by David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern, emphasized that “all planning will be guided by science, in compliance with local and state public health guidelines, and with the safety of our community at the forefront.”

Commencement exercises for this year’s graduating seniors will be split into two events to accommodate physical distancing guidelines. Undergraduates attending the ceremonies may invite up to two guests, according to current planning.

“I’m pretty excited to have my mom come,” says Brandon Mrnak, 21, who hadn’t known whether to plan for an in-person ceremony for his graduation this year. “She’s going to be thrilled.”

The Commencement plans are in line with the university’s measured return to in-person classes and are based on a set of pandemic projections provided by Northeastern faculty experts.

“In approaching each of these events, we are employing the same rigorous planning and attention to detail that we used for Northeastern’s successful reopening this year,” said Madigan in yesterday’s announcement.

The university is currently planning two outdoor ceremonies at a premier, outdoor Boston venue on Saturday, May 8. The goal is to accommodate all eligible undergraduate students in the Class of 2021—December 2020 graduates, and May and August 2021 degree candidates—by splitting the group in half.

With locations and exact timing to be determined, all graduate students will be invited to attend an in-person ceremony to be held the week of May 3 – May 7. The university has initiated discussions with city and state officials about projected gathering limits and other planning parameters, and how they relate to potential venues. Guests are being factored into this planning as well. The deans of the School of Law and the College of Professional Studies will share ceremony plans for their graduates in separate communications. 

Madigan also mentioned potential plans for last spring’s graduates, saying the university could also hold an outdoor ceremony for them.

“Our Alumni Relations office continues to work with members of the Class of 2020 to determine interest in a Boston-based celebration this spring—perhaps on Friday, May 7,” he said.

That’s welcome news to Jenna Capuzzo, who earned her health science degree last year.

“I’m actually pretty excited about the announcement, being a Class of 2020 graduate,” says Capuzzo.

“I’m definitely feeling like they’re taking a step to address the lack of closure that many of my classmates and I have felt,” she says. “I really hope that they are able to celebrate us and the Class of 2021 in a safe experience honoring the work everyone has put in over the last few years!” 

All of the events will depend heavily on the state of the pandemic in an effort to maintain a safe celebration for all, said Madigan.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will remain agile and be prepared to adjust course as needed,” he said. “As of today, we remain optimistic that by early May these outdoor events, with appropriate physical distancing and other protective measures, will be feasible.”

Mrnak, whose family will be traveling from Baltimore, Maryland, is relieved about the safety precautions.

“I think that it’s nice that it’s outdoors and I like that they’re splitting it up and there’ll be two different groups,” he says.

But most of all, he’s looking forward to inviting Mom.

“I know she misses me,” says Mrnak. “And she just had her birthday.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu

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