MIT to hold on-campus celebration for Classes of 2020 and 2021 next spring

Virtual Commencement in May will be supplemented with “smaller in-person gatherings”

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 wrote an email to graduating students on April 23 confirming a virtual Commencement for May 2021 as well as announcing the holding of an “in-person, on-campus celebration” May 2022 for both the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021. 

Members of MIT’s administration considered complementing the virtual OneMIT ceremony with an in-person celebration as vaccination rates increase and Massachusetts state restrictions ease. However, while the state has extended size limits for commencement gatherings, Barnhart wrote that the City of Cambridge has not. 

“Any large ceremony held this spring would be diminished by restrictive guest policies, physical distance and face covering requirements, time limits, and other health precautions, and by definition would not be the kind of meaningful, joyful, and spontaneous send-offs you and your loved ones have imagined,” Barnhart wrote. 

Members of the Classes of 2020 and 2021, along with their families and friends, will be invited back to campus May 2022 instead. The precise date and activities will be decided by the Commencement Committee, Alumni Association, and student leaders, who will be “working together to collect input from graduates and staff,” according to Barnhart. 

Graduating students can also expect smaller virtual and in-person events to supplement the online ceremony, as well as opportunities for photos on Killian Court. Information on online Commencement including cap and gown orders can be found in the Class of 2021 FAQ.

Barnhart wrote, “Covid-19 has taken away a capstone moment of recognition and close celebration with family and friends — for now. We will do our best to make that right by inviting 2021 and 2020 graduates back to campus next spring.”

Earlier in April, the 2021 Class Council surveyed the Class of 2021 about potential commencement ceremony formats. The two options presented in the survey were a socially distanced in-person celebration in May 2021 on Killian Court limited to graduating seniors or the traditional in-person ceremony in May 2022 that Barnhart announced. 

The responses to the survey were shared to the Class of 2021 in an email from Ashley Pearson ’21, member of the 2021 Class Council. Of the 535 survey respondents, more than 400 either slightly or strongly preferred the May 2022 option. More respondents indicated that they would be able to attend a ceremony in May 2022 than in May 2021.

The biggest factors influencing whether respondents could attend either ceremony were work or career obligations and the state of the pandemic. When asked about aspects that would be incorporated in an ideal ceremony, a majority of respondents indicated that being able to celebrate with all or most of their class, and family’s and friends’ ability to attend were extremely important to them.