Stanford’s virtual celebration of 2020 graduates scheduled for June 14

The university’s virtual celebration of graduates is scheduled for the same day as Stanford’s postponed Commencement. But it won’t be a substitute for that venerable tradition. Stanford will hold an in-person graduation when state and county COVID-19 restrictions make gathering on campus again possible.

Members of the Stanford community – from graduates and their families to continuing students to faculty and staff – are encouraged to watch via livestream a special celebration of 2020 graduates on Sunday, June 14, at 10 a.m. The livestream will last about 30 minutes and will be publicly accessible.

Stanford will hold an in-person graduation celebration when state and county COVID-19 restrictions make gathering on campus possible. (Image credit: Stanford News Service)

The celebration is scheduled for the same time as Stanford’s postponed Commencement. But it’s not intended to be a replacement for that venerable tradition, according to Matthew Tiews, associate vice president for campus engagement.

“The celebration on June 14 is a way to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our students while we are geographically distributed,” he said. “It’s something we have planned in conversation with student leadership and other campus leaders. It’s not the same as graduation and not a substitute. We remain committed to an in-person graduation when that becomes possible.”

The celebration will reimagine traditions for a virtual setting, taking advantage of the opportunity to include multiple voices from the Stanford community. Featured will be reflections and recollections by 2020 graduates and inspirational messages from alumni – including some special guests – with words addressing students graduating in unusual times.

Timeless website

On the morning of June 14, a website aggregating speeches, memories and reflections from Stanford graduating students, alumni and academic leaders will go live. The student reflections, some of which will be incorporated in the livestream celebration, are the result of an invitation issued by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne for graduating students to send in memories to share with fellow graduates. That website will remain accessible after the celebration to allow graduates and their families to peruse the memories of 2020 graduates over time.

“The student reflections are quite moving,” Tiews said. “Some speak to the losses caused by the pandemic and others about their favorite moments at Stanford. Many talk about gratitude. The messages describe their emotional journeys in being Stanford students, especially at this odd and uncertain time.”

The celebration also will feature remarks by Tessier-Lavigne and an introduction to student reflections by Provost Persis Drell. It will include a welcome by student leaders of the Associated Students of Stanford University and the Graduate Student Council, as well as the senior class presidents. Of special interest will be recollections delivered by members of the classes of 1970 and 2009, who also graduated in difficult times. In 1970, the Vietnam War and Kent State shootings affected the campus community, resulting in canceled classes and events. In 2009, students graduated to uncertain financial futures because of the Great Recession.

COVID-19 restrictions

Tiews said he hopes the celebration will be a joyful occasion, despite the disappointment of having to postpone Commencement. The postponement is one of the many challenges Stanford confronts because of how much Santa Clara County, in which the university is located, has been affected by COVID-19. Santa Clara County was the first governmental jurisdiction to impose shelter-in-place orders in the nation. It remains relatively locked down, even as other parts of the country begin to ease restrictions.

Even though Stanford is located in an area especially impacted by the pandemic, its plans align with those of other colleges and universities nationwide. Tiews says celebration planners have been in conversation with other institutions, many of which are holding online events.

“There was an enormous outpouring of feedback from families and students,” Tiews said. “We were especially affected by what we heard from first-generation students, who described to us how important it is for them to be participating in Commencement with their families. We understand how deeply disappointing the postponement is to graduating students, their families and the entire Stanford community.”

In a recent letter to graduates and their families, Tessier-Lavigne pledged the university’s commitment to holding an in-person Commencement when it becomes possible to gather on campus once again without threatening the health of participants. But Tiews acknowledges the need to take time now to celebrate the accomplishments of the estimated 5,000 graduates across all seven of Stanford’s schools.

“Given the strangeness of the moment, it’s so important that we hold an event filled with community voices to celebrate the accomplishments of these students. This is an important milestone,” Tiews said. “And there is still so much to celebrate.”

The Registrar’s Office plans to mail most diplomas to students. Staff members are reaching out to spring candidates for graduation and to alumni who graduated in the summer, autumn or winter quarters to ask them to update mail distribution options in Axess. Diplomas will be ordered shortly after Commencement and mailed directly to graduates at their diploma address entered in the application to graduate. Students can get full information on updating Axess at the Registrar’s Office website.