2020 Commencement Postponed Due to COVID-19

An email sent to students by President Andrew Hamilton on Wednesday, March 25 announced that NYU would put off the All-University commencement ceremony until further notice.

An NYU graduate holds up the Dominican Republic flag while in the stands at Yankee Stadium. The Class of 2020 commencement has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Alana Beyer)

NYU’s 2020 All-University Commencement ceremony will be delayed amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus in New York City, according to an email sent on Wednesday, March 25 by President Andrew Hamilton.

The ceremony, traditionally held in Yankee Stadium, was slated for May 20. Both this ceremony and school-exclusive ceremonies have been pushed to an undetermined date, according to the email.

“Given the advice of public health officials, as well as the restrictions put in place by city and state authorities, and out of our own sense of obligation to safeguard the safety of our community, it is impossible to imagine we could or should hold such large assemblies this spring,” the email reads.

This postponement follows the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stray away from gatherings of 50 people or more and President Donald Trump’s advice to confine gatherings to 10 people at most. 

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In the email, Hamilton stressed the university’s plans to hold a ceremony in-person when safe and possible. 

“Be assured, however, that once we are on the other side of this difficult and extraordinary time, we will find a way to hold an in-person graduation exercise and properly recognize the Class of 2020 with all the pomp and circumstance you deserve and that NYU knows how to muster,” Hamilton wrote in the email. 

Similarly, institutions such as Georgetown University and Baylor University have rescheduled their graduation ceremonies, while the University of California- Los Angeles and University of Pennsylvania decided to hold their respective commencements via Zoom. Columbia University canceled theirs. 

Hamilton also stated that there would be some form of commemoration on the original commencement day of May 20 and emphasized that eligible graduates would still be granted diplomas on time.

“I want you all to mark the date May 20, 2020 on your calendars, for we will be looking for special ways to make sure we stay connected and celebrate the Class of 2020 on that day and in the weeks leading up to it — and to assure you that, yes, for all eligible graduates, degrees will be conferred!” the email read. 

CAS senior Paggie Tan created a petition last week calling upon NYU to postpone graduation. The petition, yielding nearly 5,000 signatures, advised the university to hold commencement in late summer as opposed to holding an online commencement. 

When Tan learned that the administration planned to follow through with these requests, she was relieved. 

“I feel great,” Tan told WSN. “Columbia canceled theirs and so I’m just glad that [President Hamilton] was smarter than that. I feel really appreciated.” 

For Tan, a first-generation international student from Malaysia, commencement is more than symbolic. 

“Personally it means a lot, because my parents have never come to the U.S. and they were really excited for that,” Tan said. “I’m going to be the first in my family to graduate and I know that applied for a lot [of] kids, so I’m happy for them too.”

Tan has fought to stay at NYU for all four years. She said that what ultimately allowed her to stay were her parents’ sacrifices and her working two to three jobs each semester. 

“It was really difficult for me to not only come to this country but also to fight to stay in school, so having my parents watch me graduate and justify everything they sacrificed would have been incredibly meaningful,” Tan said. “I came to this country knowing so little yet wanting to search for very vague notions of what it meant to come to America and find ‘better opportunities’ and I think the last four years of everybody doing that is worth celebrating.”

Steinhardt senior Johaan Abraham helped Tan draft the petition and sent an email directly to Hamilton asking him to postpone commencement. 

“Please do not subject us to an online graduation to end this journey at NYU,” Abraham wrote in the email to Hamilton. “The data suggests most students would rather wait.”

Like Tan, Abraham is an international student and shares her sentiment about his parents watching him graduate.

“We were all really hoping that this was going to happen, especially those of us who are international students and our parents have paid for tickets to come see us actually graduate,” Abraham told WSN. “Through a lot of the highs and lows, this institution has sort of changed the trajectory of what I think is possible for my life, and I mean that in the truest sense.”

Abraham associates NYU with experiencing the United States for the first time.

“So much of what I experience America to be was fed through the lens of NYU, I think, because my first day in America was my first day at NYU,” Abraham said. “My American experience and where I am today really wouldn’t be anything without the school.”

Like Tan and Abraham, CAS senior Tyler Samarawickrama said he wanted his friends and family to be able to attend the ceremony. 

“The commencement would’ve been nice for my family and friends who would’ve been there,” Samarawickrama told WSN.

He said that while he was disappointed, he took more interest in the cancellation of in-person classes for the remainder of his last semester. He added that he understood the university’s decision to postpone an in-person ceremony and said he did not believe an online ceremony would be worthwhile.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not really something that would’ve been a good idea to have, so it’s understandable,” Samarawickrama said. “I don’t know if a Zoom commencement would really work.”

Gallatin senior Tyler Brady recounted his experiences learning who the commencement speaker would be throughout his time at NYU. 

“I see it personally as kind of like the true indicator that college is over with,” Brady said. “Every year I get really excited to see who the speakers are going to be and I always felt, like, ‘I want a really big one’ because that’s kind of going to end my college career with a bang. I guess I really hope that I’m able to have that for closure.”

He agreed with Samarawickrama that the delay is disheartening but that the university’s decision to defer the ceremony was warranted considering the circumstances. 

“It’s not surprising at all,” Brady said. “It wouldn’t make sense to have it amid all of these troubles. It’s disappointing nonetheless, though. I think graduating at Yankee Stadium is something every student looks forward to and it sucks, but as long as it’s going to happen sometime in the future, I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.”

While most seniors agree that their final semester has been negatively altered by the spread of COVID-19, Abraham said the prospect of still having a ceremony is something to celebrate.

“At the very least, what the intention was, was to give us that dignity and conviction to walk across the stage and be able to fulfill that dream in a very unprecedented time, which has already sort of shaken us in many other ways,” Abraham said. “To be able to hold onto that is kind of nice.”

Email Lisa Cochran at [email protected]

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