I am writing to update you with some difficult news. We had hoped to resume in-person classes after several weeks of distance learning; however, it is now apparent that no more in-person classes will be possible this semester. We have made the decision to continue our educational mission via distance teaching through the end of the semester.
Throughout our deliberations, our top priority has been an abiding commitment to providing a meaningful educational experience while reducing the risk of COVID-19 among our community and beyond. It is frustrating and disappointing to have to do all this from a distance and forego the many important events that had been planned for this spring. At the same time, predictions for the massive incidence of COVID-19 are daunting. The path of this disease is not in our control, and we must take immediate and effective action to limit person-to-person contact. We will continue to allow students with significant hardships to stay on campus for the duration of the semester, but students will be required to self-distance or self-isolate, with only distant and online contact with others. Gordon Commons will be take-out only, and many buildings will be closed as Vassar will be operating with less than 25% of our full staff, following the executive order of our state governor. For students who have left belongings on campus, Dean Alamo will soon provide more information about how to collect or store your belongings. We know how stressful this is and we want to be sure you are able to retrieve everything that you left here and is valuable to you.
This news leads me to a more painful announcement, primarily for seniors and their families. After much reflection and consideration, I regret to let you know that we must cancel this year’s traditional commencement ceremony and graduation weekend. The degrees will be conferred, but we must delay the in-person ceremony and celebration, and we will plan for some type of commemoration at a later date—perhaps in 2021.
This has been a profoundly difficult decision to make. The collision of two significant, life-changing events—your college graduation and a global pandemic—have thrown these last months of the academic year into turmoil and disappointment.
Class of 2020, you deserve better. You have worked hard, and you are a fearless and talented group of gifted young adults who make our extended Vassar community proud. I know how devastating this news must be, to have this important moment that is meant to commemorate your hard work, dreams, and ambition taken from you when it is just within reach. Please take comfort in the knowledge that the friendships and bonds you have made here will weather the current storm and will ultimately be strengthened by your perseverance and shared sacrifices.
To your parents, I share in a deep sense of disappointment. I know watching one’s child cross the stage and receive that diploma is a cherished moment, one I have witnessed with two of my own children. But today, we are living in a difficult time in history, one that, while haven taken away this one special day, can never erase the valuable accomplishments, inspiring dreams, and fierce determination your student takes into the world. I have delighted in knowing them during their time on campus; I will continue to learn from them in the coming weeks and months, and they will always be part of the wonderful community that is Vassar.
As I write, we are already hard at work on a plan for a virtual commencement, to take place this spring. Stay tuned for more details. We will explore the possibility of hosting an in-person commencement celebration for your class at some point in the future when the threat of COVID-19 is behind us. We look forward to hearing your ideas about what would make for a proper celebration and will be in touch for your input as planning begins.
I want to assure all students that the faculty, administrators, and staff are committed to you for the rest of the semester. In an effort to respond to directives from New York State and minimize the density of people on campus, we are working with a significantly reduced number of employees on campus. Our Dean of College areas (e.g., Career Services, Fellowships, Dean of Studies) will continue to support you in whatever ways they can online. The faculty, who are also adapting to being separated from you and the Vassar community, will also be available throughout the semester to advise and help you in the completion of your academic requirements.
To each and every student, I want to express my sincere gratitude to you and to the dreams you have brought to Vassar. You have made us who we are as a community, we look forward to working with you from afar for the remainder of the semester, and your impact will be felt here for years to come. Thank you for being part of this community and working so hard to make it even better. My heart is heavy imagining the campus for the next six weeks without you. I so appreciate the seriousness with which you are taking this, and the many sacrifices being made by all students, faculty, administrators, and staff to do what is right for the public’s health in this exceptional moment in history. Let us stay focused on the hard work that remains to be done, and when the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, we will find a way to celebrate together again.
Elizabeth H. Bradley, President