by Bry Reed ’20

On Friday, April 24, President Carol Quillen sent an email to the class of 2020 inviting us to an online celebration on May 17, the date we would’ve all gathered on Chambers Lawn for Commencement. The email comes amid the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19 as the United States (and the world) try to figure out next steps. Davidson College is one of many higher ed institutions trying to make the most out of virtual community building. The upcoming virtual ceremony is coupled with hope of reuniting us in the future for an on-campus Commencement weekend. With plans to honor the class of 2020, however, the option for receiving diplomas by mail is already off the table.

As Davidson plans to send caps and gowns, gifts, and other surprises to the graduating class, we should not expect our degrees in the mail. Those will only be available at the future ceremony (which has yet to be scheduled). The Commencement section of Davidson’s website reads:

While we will not have a formal, in-person Commencement ceremony on May 17, degrees will be conferred on that date.

We will hand out diplomas during the rescheduled on-campus Commencement ceremony. 

If you are concerned about possibly needing a physical copy of your diploma earlier, jobs in the United States and all graduate schools require an official transcript and NOT a diploma. International employers may require a copy of your diploma, which really is an original, notarized translation of your Latin diploma. We will be able to send transcripts and notarized translations after May 17. 

If you were planning to receive your diploma at the rescheduled Commencement but cannot attend, we will mail your diploma after the ceremony.

The decision to hold a virtual ceremony is not unusual. Peer institutions like Pomona College are opting for their own virtual ceremonies, and larger universities like The Ohio State University are even having Apple CEO Tim Cooke deliver a virtual keynote address. Unlike Davidson, however, Ohio State plans to mail diplomas to its over 8,000 graduates once staff return to campus. 

For the class of 2020, coronavirus has already taken away opportunities to make memories with friends and mentors on campus. There will be no senior party, Black Graduation, or Commencement on Chambers Lawn this spring. There will be no beach week or the chance to frolic one last time as students. For us, our final Davidson College memories are filtered through screens and WiFi connections. Delivering diplomas now, not later, presents an opportunity to give Davidson’s Class of 2020 a chance to hold on to joy.

The chance to gather again in the future is amazing. Yet, we cannot ignore the disparities that will make returning to campus hard for members of the Davidson community. As coronavirus continues to spread, many public health officials urge us all to cancel mass gatherings. Experts suggest that major gatherings be put on hold for at least 18 months. Major events like the NBA season, Coachella, and elections have all been pushed back. People are rescheduling family vacations, reunions, and festivals amidst the uncertainty and danger of COVID-19. In an article from March 2020, Juliette Kayyem, former Assistant Secretary  for Homeland Security under the Obama administration said: 

From a public-health standard, the pandemic will not end for another 18 months. The only complete resolution—a vaccine—could be at least that far away. The development of a successful vaccine is both difficult and not sufficient. It must also be manufactured, distributed, and administered to a nation’s citizens. Until that happens, as recent reports from the U.S. government and from scientists at London’s Imperial College point out, we will be vulnerable to subsequent waves of the new coronavirus even if the current wave happens to ebb.

Even in the wake of coronavirus, the logistics of getting a class back together are not easy. The issues of coordinating a weekend that works for the entire class of 2020 alone is difficult. Finances pose another barrier to receiving the coveted Davidson College diploma at the in-person celebration. Some families may not have the disposable income to travel back to Davidson. The reality is that an in-person ceremony is contingent on how the United States progresses in treating COVID-19. Even with a vaccine, inequitable medical care and the cost of the vaccine still make attending an in-person gathering hard for marginalized families. 

The option to receive our diplomas by mail now is worth taking seriously. For first-generation students, the moment we hang our diploma in our home should not be delayed. One of the beautiful things about Commencement at Davidson is the joy of leaving campus with your diploma in hand. There’s no waiting then, and we should not have it now as students are already struggling to find joy in such trying times. The class of 2020 has already lost so many memories. The chance to receive our diplomas in May 2020, like we always dreamed, matters more now than ever before. As we search for joy and hope, give us a choice before letting someone else decide how long we should wait for our degree. 

Bry Reed ’20 is a senior Africana Studies major. Contact her at brreed@davidson.edu