Bacow Hopes for ‘As Close to a Traditional’ Post-Covid Commencement As Possible for Classes of ’20, ’21


For the Classes of 2020 and 2021, the dream of walking across the stage in a cap and gown during a Harvard graduation is not dead yet.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview Thursday that Harvard intends for future in-person celebrations for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 to closely mirror traditional Commencement Exercises with just “as much pomp and circumstance.”

Bacow announced on Feb. 26 the University would postpone its Commencement Exercises and hold a virtual ceremony in May due to ongoing public health concerns. This marks the second consecutive year without an in-person celebration for graduates.

The school has assured the Class of 2021 that Harvard plans to hold an in-person event “one day” — the same promise made to Class of 2020 graduates.


Bacow said Thursday that the University has yet to decide on a date for postponed commencements, but he is considering spring 2022 as a potential goal.

“One possibility is that we will do it adjacent to commencement next spring — assuming that we have an in-person commencement next spring, which I expect we will and certainly hope that we will,” he said.

Bacow noted the decision depends on the evolution of public health limitations over the coming year.

“We are at this point waiting to see when it is feasible to bring people together from literally around the world to celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021,” he said.

With the Class of 2021 facing an uncertain job market after graduation, Bacow said the University has not made any decisions on whether to offer graduates financial assistance in returning to campus for the future in-person events.

“We obviously would like as many graduates there as possible,” he said. “We would endeavor to do what we can to try and be helpful as much as possible, but at this point, I can’t answer that more precisely.”

Commencement — and the class reunions that are held in tandem — are typically a fundraising boon for the University. Bacow said that Harvard has found alumni to “continue to be generous and supportive” in reunion years, even in the virtual environment.

Reunion programming for class years ending in ’1 and ’6 will take place virtually this spring.

In 2020, Harvard collected more money in current-use donations than any other year in the school’s history, according to Bacow.

“Partly that was because I think our donors recognized that we had a need for resources which could help us immediately, as opposed to gifts which might come in a form in which the resources are only available to us over time,” he said. “We probably saw a shift of giving for endowment to giving for current use.”

The University’s Fiscal Year 2020 financial report cautioned, however, that the increase in current-use gifts was partially the result of “many” early collections on past donation pledges from the most recent capital campaign, which ended in 2018. The report, which was released in October, warned that Harvard “should anticipate less philanthropy in the coming year.”

“I think we’re doing pretty well this year,” Bacow said, pointing to a $150 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies that was announced earlier this month.

“It’s quite remarkable because we’ve not had meetings in person with any of our donors,” he said.

Harvard hauled in a record-breaking $9.6 billion in its most recent capital campaign under Bacow’s predecessor, Drew G. Faust. Bacow said Thursday that the school has no plans for another capital campaign in the near future.

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.