March 27, 2020
Last week, a photographer spotted a weathergram on campus and snapped a photo of it as it turned in the breeze under the cherry blossoms. The photo and some of the words on the weathergram—“this is the first line of a poem”—stuck with me; I find in them a way of looking at the difficulty of what we are experiencing right now. We stand at the beginning of something large and uncertain. While we don’t know what is to come, we can find moments of meaning and beauty as each day unfolds.
This is your last year at Reed—and my first. Even without the current challenges you face, you have a special place in my heart; you are the first class I will see graduate from Reed. I am, along with you, crushed that your senior year has been disrupted. I understand how hard it was for you to leave campus early, just as spring began, when so many rites of passage seemed near. I also understand that you have been looking forward to what will likely be your one and only graduation from Reed. I write to assure you that we will celebrate your important milestone.
Sadly, my news to you today is that members of the task force and I have made the decision to cancel the in-person Commencement ceremony scheduled for May 2020. We arrived at this decision after weighing our options, examining the most current information on and outlook surrounding COVID-19, and holding out hope for a different outcome for as long as we reasonably could. This week, Governor of Oregon Kate Brown issued an executive order prohibiting “non-essential gatherings, regardless of size, of individuals outside of a home if a distance of at least six feet between individuals cannot be maintained.” This order is in effect until terminated by the governor. Given this and other data about the pandemic, it is clear that cancellation is necessary.
The decision to cancel the May in-person ceremony is deeply disappointing to me and, I am sure, to all of you, but I continue to find ways to keep my eyes on the light at the horizon. I want to share what is giving me hope and bring you in on the plans we are making.
Anticipating that we might find ourselves here, last week we surveyed you, your parents, and faculty for input on how to proceed, and we are using that information to guide us. The majority of the seniors who responded asked to postpone Commencement until 2021, with more than 50% preferring to hold your in-person ceremony at Reunions 2021.
In a time of such uncertainty, I cannot give you absolutes, but we will honor the majority vote and hold an in-person ceremony for you and your guests at Reunions 2021. The ceremony held during next year’s Reunions will be nothing short of spectacular, and it will be a pure joy to welcome you back to Reed.
There are other considerations and aspects of this plan that we are addressing. We recognize that returning to Portland at a later date will be financially difficult for some. We will establish a travel voucher fund, for which 2020 graduates in need can apply, to assist with the graduate’s cost of travel to attend the ceremony at Reunions. We will also devise a way that graduates and their families who cannot attend in 2021 can join in from afar. Lastly, we know Commencement is not the only tradition from the last few months of senior year that you want to uphold, and we are working hard on ways to incorporate elements of these other traditions into our plans.
We will have more information in the coming months, and we will communicate with you frequently as plans become more detailed and certain.
In these extraordinary times, it is not within our power to fully replace what you have lost. But I want you to know that your fellow students, faculty, staff, and a great many alumni are thinking about you. We want you to have an experience that honors your achievement and the significance of this moment in your lives. Right now, people everywhere are coming together in order to meet this crisis—working together, learning together, solving problems together, and experiencing together. This connectedness is a profound and beautiful piece of our story—something poetic. Although this opportunity to deeply connect arises from shared sorrow and adversity, it will be the foundation of much strength and meaning in our lives. And ultimately, I believe, it will give way to a season of happiness.
In the meantime, I and your Reed family hold you in our hearts.