369th Commencement Exercises

Frequently Asked Questions

On March 20, 2020, the University announced it would be necessary to postpone the in-person May 28 commencement exercises.

How did the University come to its decision about its plan for this year’s May Commencement?

As President Bacow explained in his announcement, this year’s Commencement Exercises, which would have taken place on Thursday, May 28, must be postponed. Given the advice we are receiving from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other public health officials, and our own faculty, who are among the world’s leaders in infectious disease, epidemiology, and virology, it is difficult to imagine how we could safely hold such a large gathering this spring. The university is providing this guidance now so that people can make adjustments to their plans.

What will happen on May 28? Will there be a virtual ceremony?

President Bacow noted that while a virtual commencement gathering will not be able to match the traditional festivities, we will convene online on Thursday, May 28, to award degrees so that everyone will graduate as expected. Each School at Harvard will also host its own special online event and afterwards send diplomas through the mail.

When will an in-person celebration take place?

The university plans to host an in-person celebration sometime later, once we know it is safe to bring people together again. The hope is that the ceremony will have all of the pomp, circumstance, and tradition that is typical of a Harvard commencement and will include as many of the traditional campus festivities that typically precede commencement as possible. We ask for the community's patience while this plan is considered.


What does this mean for students?

Unfortunately, we know delaying the in-person ceremony is heartbreaking news for many students, the faculty and staff who look forward to seeing this day, and for the many families whose support and encouragement have allowed students to get to this incredible conclusion of their Harvard studies. We hope they understand the university is doing its best with the information it has and that its top concern is the health, safety and wellbeing of the community and beyond.

The university recognizes that delaying the ceremony may impose new burdens on some of our undergraduates. We will endeavor in our planning to enable as many students as possible to return to campus.

What does this mean for Class Days and School ceremonies?

All in-person events on campus related to commencement and scheduled for spring 2020 will not occur as traditionally presented. The university will continue to plan for a postponed ceremony which will include as many of the traditional campus festivities that typically precede commencement as possible.

The Harvard Alumni Association will be reaching out to support graduating College students with resources and connect them with their global alumni community. 

How will students receive their diplomas?

We will be in communication soon about how graduates will receive their diploma. We are committed to ensuring graduates receive their diplomas in timely manner, once we learn when they can be safely produced. Please assure that your mailing address with your Registrar’s Office is up to date.

Can graduates indicate (on resumes, etc.) that they are a Harvard graduate, class of 2020?

Yes, as long as you have completed the degree requirements expected of you for your program and been recommended by your department. More information will be available in the weeks to come.

Can graduates still participate in speech competitions for Commencement (aka Orations competition)?

The University is exploring all options at this time. Those who submit by 3/30 @ 4 PM should be prepared to participate in a virtual program on May 28, in the morning (eastern US time) and delivered remotely if current health and safety restrictions remain. Considering many options, if it is determined that student speakers will be featured at the postponed, in-person Commencement, a date will first need to be determined before moving forward beyond submissions. Once a date is confirmed, it will be shared with those who have submitted. 

What about regalia?

The Coop, Oakhall, and Balfour have guaranteed that all regalia rental orders will be refunded. We do not advise renting regalia at this time.

The Coop and Oakhall will be cancelling all regalia orders already placed and automatically refunding all degree candidates, fully. Please note: these refunds can take up to 21 days to process. 


What does this mean for parents and families?

Families and guests should cancel any travel or accommodation plans for May 2020 and until we know more about when it is safe to move forward with any future visits to campus.

For those families who need a notice of cancellation to receive a refund from an airline, please contact the Commencement Office directly at commencement@harvard.edu to request this.

The university recognizes that this will impose additional financial burdens on our undergraduates who receive financial aid, and we will endeavor to help them return to campus for a postponed celebration.


What does this mean for the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association (also known as the Commencement Afternoon Program)?

All ceremonial events planned for May 28 will not take place. The University's top concern is the health, safety and wellbeing of the entire Harvard community, which includes our alumni, both on campus and off.

The Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association is an important tradition that brings alumni worldwide together. It is during the annual meeting convened by the HAA president that graduating students, their families, alumni and the Harvard community hear from the Commencement speaker and the Harvard president, celebrate Harvard Medalists, and recognize the Chief Marshal and alumni volunteers. While the Harvard Alumni Association will not hold an Annual Meeting this year, we encourage alumni to connect with each other and with graduating students to welcome them to the alumni community.

Are reunions also being canceled?

The University and the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) know and value the important place that reunions hold for so many of our alumni. We share the sentiment that connections across time are an important element of the Harvard alumni community.

The College is exploring opportunities to bring reunion classes together in the future. Though it won’t yet be clear when this will be, the College will be in touch as soon as we have information to share.  The Schools will be making their decisions individually and communicating directly to their students when they are able.

We thank our alumni community for their understanding that this decision, as with commencement, was guided foremost by our responsibility to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our alumni visitors and their families, our staff and faculty and others on campus who take part, as well as communities beyond campus. That is our top priority.

If you are a member of the class of 2020 and would like to share your idea how we, collectively, might best celebrate the class when it is safe to do so, please visit here.

Harvard University is closely monitoring the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. For more information about University-wide resources and updates, please visit the Harvard University Coronavirus (COVID-19) website.

Helpful Links


Harvard Alumni Association

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