Message to Graduating Seniors and Graduate Students - April 4, 2020

The following message was sent to graduating seniors and graduate students on April 4, 2020, by University President Rev. Mark L. Poorman, CSC, and Provost Thomas Greene.

Dear Graduating Seniors and Graduate Students,

We write this morning about a topic that has been top-of-mind for many of you these past few weeks – our annual Commencement Exercises.  We acknowledge the feelings many of you have expressed about our decision to cancel in-person Commencement this May.  We hear and understand your concerns.

We further recognize that there is some uncertainty about why the University made this difficult decision.  This morning, we write to you directly to provide additional insight into our thinking and to address next steps.  We thank you in advance for reading this message in its entirety.

As you know, in-person Commencement Exercises will not occur on Sunday, May 3.  Given travel restrictions, prohibitions on large gatherings, and public health concerns, hosting in-person graduation ceremonies on May 3 is neither feasible nor prudent.  Instead, our proceedings on May 3 will be conducted virtually.

Many have asked why we cannot postpone our Commencement Exercises until a later date, citing examples of some other institutions that have elected to do so.  We cannot speak for other colleges and universities, but we can share three key considerations that guided us when we made our decision:

First, it is important both to UP and to many students (undergraduate students and graduate students) that degrees be conferred on May 3.  This is the date printed on diplomas, and receipt of a degree on May 3 is important to many students for reasons of employment and graduate studies.

Second, we have concerns that simply postponing Commencement to an undetermined date in the future could result in issues of unfairness and inequity.  Commencement is a seminal University event that is intended to bring our entire community together.  It is scheduled years in advance in order to maximize access for all members of our community.  At UP, we are proud to be the academic home of students from all sorts of backgrounds and geographic origins.  If UP were to select a date for Commencement in, for example, August or September, we could be making it unduly difficult for working students, students in graduate programs, students of modest financial means, and students from outside the Pacific Northwest to return to Portland to attend.  We fear that doing so could damage Commencement’s status as an inclusive event for our entire community.

Third, UP cannot guarantee that, by August or September, restrictions on gatherings, travel, and social distancing will be relaxed.  While we hope that the pandemic subsides as soon as possible, neither UP nor public health authorities can say at this juncture when this will occur.  Accordingly, postponing to a later date this summer or early fall would be based on speculation rather than reliable data.

For these reasons, we will proceed with degree conferral on May 3.  But, we make this pledge to you now: we will celebrate the Class of 2020 in a public, in-person manner at a future date.  Conversations about what such a celebration could look like, and when it might occur, are already underway.  We will ensure that these conversations continue, and we welcome your constructive feedback on an appropriate date.  This feedback may be sent to commencement@up.edu.  We will keep you and your families apprised of future plans.

We know and accept that these answers will not be satisfactory to some.  But we are, and continue to be, guided by a desire to keep community members safe, provide you with the degree you earned on the date you earned it, and find a time in the future to celebrate the Class of 2020.

You and your families are in our prayers.  We hope that you will join us in praying for our health care professionals, our leaders, and all who continue to be impacted by this pandemic.

Sincerely,

Father Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C., President
Thomas G. Greene, Provost