MIT students petition against virtual commencement

Petition urges MIT administrators to consider holding postponed in-person commencement

As of press time, over 550 people have signed a petition against a virtual 2020 commencement.

The petition urges MIT administrators to “explore alternative solutions (such as postponement) when considering the fate of our once-in-a-lifetime celebration of each other's successes and memories at the institute.” 

“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its heartbreaking consequences, the achievements of MIT's graduating students should not be reduced to an insignificant, virtual ceremony,” the petition writes.

Cathy Choi ’20 started the petition Thursday. Choi wrote in an email to MIT undergraduates that the petition will be sent to President L. Rafael Reif, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson, and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz.

Choi wrote in an email to The Tech that the petition “aims to increase transparency” in MIT administrators’ decision-making and encourage administrators to “engage with students” in planning commencement.

“The ideal alternative... would be postponement of commencement to a later date deemed safe for all students and family to convene in Killian Court, even if that means May 2021,” Choi wrote, noting the “utter unpredictability of the future.” 

Margaret Trautner ’20 wrote in an email to The Tech that she signed the petition because a virtual commencement “seems like a sad excuse for all the time and work we put in to this degree.” 

“We don't get a senior spring or a senior ball. We don't get to spend these last few months with the people we've grown to love. After this awful past week, I've realized that celebrations allow us to reflect and figure out how we will stay true to ourselves through the next phase of life. Change without celebration is jarring,” Trautner wrote.

Trautner wrote that she would support moving an in-person commencement to this fall or “early spring” next year.

Joaquin Giraldo ’20 wrote on the petition webpage that “the 2020s deserve the traditional commencement we fought for, even if it must happen at a later time.”

“There are so many people in the class of 2020 that have made a huge impact on my life. I want to be able to celebrate this achievement with them and see them walk,” Kyra Majors ’20 wrote on the petition webpage.

Several universities, including Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and UCLA, have announced that they will hold virtual commencements this spring. Harvard will also “host an in-person celebration sometime later, once we know it is safe to bring people together again,” Harvard president Lawrence Bacow ’72 wrote in an email to members of the Harvard community Friday.

Bacow wrote that while “no virtual gathering can possibly match the splendor of our usual festivities,” degrees will be awarded online “so that everyone will graduate as expected.” 

“Each School at Harvard will also host its own special online event and afterwards deliver diplomas through the mail,” Bacow wrote.