Due to the cancellation of the May 17 in-person Commencement ceremony because of COVID-19, the University administration decided to host virtual mini celebrations to honor graduating students. While an in-person Commencement will still take place in the future, the virtual celebrations are meant to pay tribute to students’ “hard work and achievement” while at Brandeis, according to the University’s website.   

The mini celebration sessions, which started May 24, will continue from May 26-28 and June 1, and will primarily be organized by students’ major. Though some departments are working together to host joint ceremonies, faculty and staff have worked to uniquely capture “the character and spirit of their academic program[s],” the website explained. In a May 19 email to the Justice, News and Communications Specialist Julian Cardillo '14 wrote that the celebrations are by no means “‘cookie cutter’ ceremonies” and are meant to be personal for departments’ students, faculty and staff.   

To launch the mini celebrations, University President Ron Liebowitz, Provost Lisa Lynch and Dean of Arts and Sciences Dorothy Hodgson recorded a Conferral of Degrees Ceremony from their homes. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, Liebowitz reminded graduates that “while we can’t come together in person … the bonds we have as Brandesians draw us together now, and will continue to do so, into the future.” The University also shared a video compilation of members of the Brandeis community congratulating graduates on their accomplishments. 

In his email, Cardillo stressed the importance of making the events accessible to all students. Running between 45 minutes and one hour, the ceremonies have been staggered to ensure that students who have double or triple majors or are living in different time zones can still participate in the event for their major. Cardillo added that many departments will be hosting “after parties” following their mini celebration to allow for students, faculty and families to celebrate in a “more informal online setting.” 

The events will be accessible to family and friends as well, allowing for each student to register up to seven people to participate in the celebration, the website explains. The registration limit is meant to ensure that virtual space capacity is not overwhelmed during the celebrations. 

The mini ceremonies have been in the works since March and have come together thanks to collaboration between the Commencement Working Group, staff and faculty, Cardillo explained. The CWG, which is led by Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer and vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, is made up of staff ranging from Information Technology Services to Marketing and External Relations. Zosia Buse ’20 also served as the undergraduate representative in the CWG. Consisting of members with various expertise from across campus, the CWG has acted as both an organizer and a resource for departments in their planning processes, Cardillo added. 

In addition to efforts from faculty and staff, student input played a key role in the mini celebration planning process. The CWG read and analyzed the Brandeis community’s input when planning, Cardillo wrote. These suggestions were gathered following a March 19 email to the Brandeis community in which Liebowitz shared a form for input regarding how Commencement should be organized.     

In his email, Cardillo explained that planning the mini celebrations came with several challenges, but “the level of care shown by all our faculty and staff to give graduating students a way to celebrate has been apparent from the start.”

One unique challenge of virtual Commencement was accounting for the possibility of Zoombombing. To prevent this from occurring, Cardillo wrote, the University set up registration for the ceremonies using a Unet protected webpage in which students must enter their Brandeis username and password for registration access. He added that celebrations will be hosted under the webinar status, “Zoom’s most secure platform.” Cardillo stressed the importance of sharing invitation links only with intended guests to prevent Zoombombing. 

Students who are unable to attend the virtual celebrations or would like to access footage of them will be able to request access to videos come August, Cardillo added. 

The University will host its in-person ceremony in spring 2021, according to a BrandeisNOW article.