March 10, 2021
Russell C. Carey, ​Executive Vice President, Planning and Policy

To Graduating Students: Update on Brown's Commencement Plans


Dear May 2021 Graduating Students,

I am writing to provide an update with regard to planning for Commencement 2021. As you are aware from President Christina H. Paxson’s January 21 communication to campus on this topic, we are planning a modified version of Commencement events for April 30 to May 2, 2021, that will provide in-person ceremonies for graduating students, but families and friends will attend virtually rather than in-person. Our planning is being guided by two key priorities:

  • First and foremost, Commencement 2021 will be planned and held in a manner that is healthy and safe, including being fully compliant with the University’s COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy and the rules and regulations governing events promulgated by the State of Rhode Island.

  • Second, Commencement will focus on the experience of graduating students. Commencement is a recognition and celebration of your academic accomplishments, and they will be the focus of University planning efforts and events.

These priorities lead a set of principles that are the basis for all of our planning, and I invite you to read the full list of guiding principles on the Commencement website. The website will be your resource for detailed information about graduation activities. It currently explains how to purchase regalia and also hosts a preliminary schedule of events, as well as offering an evolving set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Please plan to continue visiting the website to find information as plans develop further in the coming weeks.

Some key points of information are outlined here:

  • As we shared in January, while graduates will attend in-person ceremonies, families and friends will attend virtually. We also expect that most graduates who are studying remotely during the spring will participate virtually, unless they meet the requirements outlined below of being located in Providence, observing the quarantine period and participating in the COVID-19 testing program.

  • In planning healthy and safe in-person events, the University will seek to prioritize important Brown traditions to the fullest extent possible, knowing that many will not be feasible given the pandemic. Holding any part of the College Ceremony at the Meeting House, for example, is not feasible given the lack of sufficient space for social distancing. Walking out the Van Wickle Gates for all graduating students is essential, but not in the traditional procession with thousands of fellow students, faculty or alumni lining College Hill on each side. In planning these events, we will be both flexible and creative in preserving the critical elements of a Brown Commencement while ensuring that all health and safety standards are met.

  • University-level planning for Commencement will focus on three in-person events: College Ceremony; Graduate School (Masters and PhD) Ceremony; and Warren Alpert Medical School Ceremony. All three will be livestreamed for family and friends to view as they happen. Given the complexity and challenge of these three events alone, no other large-scale in-person events are planned.

  • Undergraduate and graduate students who wish to participate in the in-person ceremonies must be actively enrolled in and compliant with the University’s COVID-19 testing program (graduating Warren Alpert Medical School students are not enrolled in testing given their clinical rotations and are eligible to be vaccinated). Graduating students who are currently studying remotely and graduate students who completed their degrees in October or February may only participate in Commencement if they can be in Providence and quarantine and participate in the testing program for at least ten (10) days prior to Commencement (entering testing no later than April 21, 2021). Later this month, instructions will be shared with remote students for how to enroll in the testing program, and the College’s E-Gap team will reach out directly to undergraduate students with high demonstrated financial need to help support their return to campus for Commencement.

  • Departmental and concentration diploma ceremonies will not be allowed in-person due to the challenge of overseeing and staffing such a large number of events and ensuring compliance with health and safety standards. Undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diploma and Commencement program by mail after the weekend (please note that they will begin to be mailed after the weekend and that process will take several weeks; digital diploma copies will be available about a week after Commencement). Departments will be encouraged to hold virtual celebrations with their students, which can take place during the week preceding Commencement.

  • Graduating students remaining in Providence following Commencement (such as seniors living off-campus) will be expected and able to remain in the University’s COVID-19 testing program up until May 31, 2021. Doing so will be important both for your own health and safety as well as the surrounding community. Students who are leaving Providence following Commencement are encouraged to follow the public health guidance, including testing options, of the locations they are going to next.

Additional information will be forthcoming on the Commencement website, so please refer to it often.

We know that graduating is a tremendous milestone that celebrates the end of a journey of learning, discovery and building lifelong friendships and connections. And we understand the disappointment of marking this momentous occasion without family and friends witnessing the event in-person. Your safety remains our first priority, and the persistence and consistency of our health protocols have been the largest factor in keeping our community safe, even as we plan for a summer term where students will continue to be on campus. Like so many events in these times, none of this is the way we wish it to be, and I appreciate your patience, understanding and flexibility.


Russell C. Carey
​Executive Vice President, Planning & Policy