Letter to the Class of 2020 from President Biddy Martin

May 5, 2020

Biddy Martin

Dear Class of 2020,

I am writing about Commencement. Let me begin by thanking you for sharing your thoughts and preferences in light of the circumstances that prevent us from celebrating in person this year. You expressed an overwhelming preference for postponing the in-person celebration until the spring of 2021. You also have a clear preference for keeping the class of 2020’s celebration distinct from that of the class of 2021’s. So, in the spring of Amherst’s bicentennial year, we will joyfully celebrate not one, but two commencements, a turn of events we could not have foreseen a few months back but one that will prove to be a fitting way to commemorate Amherst’s 200th birthday. We are looking at late May and early June 2021 and will be in touch as soon as we have confirmed the date of your in-person Commencement. In the meantime, we will hold a virtual celebration later this month at which your degrees will be officially conferred, some details of which you will find below.

Many of you will recall that I promised we would bring you back to campus for Commencement when it made sense again to gather. I also acknowledged that job commitments and budget constraints may conceivably make travel back to campus difficult for some. We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that you can all be here to celebrate—and be celebrated—together. Alumni and friends of the College have started a fund to help defray costs associated with gathering at this later date for those in need of financial assistance. One of you suggested that anyone who cannot make it back to campus next May be welcomed to walk with a subsequent graduating class whenever the stars align for you to do so. Done! This is a great idea. Our entire community of faculty, staff, and students will always be pleased to celebrate members of the historic class of 2020 and welcome them to the stage with special recognition.

We are also looking forward to marking the tremendous occasion of your graduation this spring, albeit in a virtual way. Because we extended the semester in order to allow time to adjust to distance learning and teaching, our faculty and board of trustees will be voting on your degrees a bit later than normal. For that reason, we invite you to join us virtually on May 31, 2020 (one week after the date originally scheduled for Commencement 2020) for a virtual conferring of degrees and a celebration, with some wonderful surprises. Please mark your calendars and hold May 31. You will receive more details soon. 

When this semester began, we fully expected to be able to gather in the usual way to celebrate all that you have achieved during your time at Amherst. I know it is a great disappointment not to be able to do so, just as spending part of your final semester away from campus has been. I look forward to the virtual event on the 31st of this month and to welcoming each of you back to campus for an extra-special in-person Commencement celebration, with pre-Commencement events, next spring. Meanwhile, I hope your thesis work, coursework, exams, and papers will have gone well when we celebrate on the 31st. I admire your resilience and think the world is lucky to have you entering it with your talent, determination, and education.

With warm best wishes,

Biddy