A message to the Penn community regarding Commencement

With the end of the academic year approaching, thoughts naturally begin to turn toward Commencement, one of Penn’s grandest traditions and a worthy recognition of the academic accomplishments of our students.

Since the onset of the pandemic, travel has been curtailed and large gatherings have been prohibited in jurisdictions across the country, including here in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. These conditions forced a postponement of last year’s in-person ceremony and has compelled us to contend with much uncertainty as we planned for the possibility of a ceremony this May.

We are pleased to report that, based upon the new guidelines very recently issued by the Philadelphia Health Department, we have now confirmed that we will be able to hold one limited in-person undergraduate Commencement ceremony at Franklin Field on the morning of May 17th. This plan is contingent upon there being no major interim change for the worse in the course of the pandemic. Due to public health limitations, we regret that we will not be able to welcome the entire Penn community to this year’s celebration. For this year’s ceremony, Class of 2021 seniors who have been part of our asymptomatic testing protocol this semester, and who have not had housing or access to campus revoked because of a Campus Compact violation, will be invited to participate. No travel from outside of the Philadelphia region to attend will be permitted. Family or friends will not be able to be accommodated at Franklin Field, but they will be able to watch a livestream and the ceremony recording will be posted to our website. Unfortunately, we are not able to hold any other in-person ceremonies for the Class of 2021, and we cannot include graduate or professional students at the in-person event. All graduate ceremonies will be presented virtually, and graduate and professional students will hear directly from their schools about those plans.

The graduating seniors who plan to participate in Commencement will be required to test negative for COVID-19 prior to the ceremony. Masks will be required, as will social distancing. Specific details regarding health checks and registration will be sent directly to graduating seniors.

We are also pleased at this time to be able to announce that our Commencement speaker will be Penn alumna Laurene Powell Jobs. Ms. Powell Jobs is founder and president of Emerson Collective, which is dedicated to the pursuit of a more equal and just world. Emerson Collective deploys a range of tools—from impact investing to philanthropy to advocacy—to lift up entrepreneurs, leaders, innovators, and creators working to build such a world and advance progress in critical areas, including education, immigration, climate, and cancer research and treatment. Through her leadership, philanthropy and advocacy, Ms. Jobs is an inspiring example of the positive impact that Penn alumni are making in addressing complex issues that face our nation and world, and her insight will ensure our graduates a memorable and meaningful Commencement experience.

In addition, we have an extraordinary group of other Honorary Degree recipients whose accomplishments we will celebrate by bestowing the University’s highest recognition: Elizabeth Alexander (GR’92), poet and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Frances H. Arnold, 2018 Nobel Prize winner and the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology; David L. Cohen (L’81), Senior Advisor of Comcast Corporation and Chair of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania; Joy Harjo, poet and musician of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation and the 23rd United States Poet Laureate; David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and Former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and member of Parliament in the United Kingdom; John Williams, composer and musical director for film and concert stage, and former Music Director of the Boston Pops Orchestra; and Janet L. Yellen economist and the 78th United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Please know that we will continue to look for an opportunity to appropriately recognize our 2020 graduates, along with 2021 graduates who will not be able to attend this year’s event, as soon as pandemic restrictions permit. We want to ensure that all of these students have the opportunity for their academic accomplishments to be publicly recognized, and we are committed to finding a way to make that happen.

We are pleased to be able to recognize as many of our graduates as is safely possible in person at Franklin Field on May 17th. To all our graduates, we offer our heartfelt congratulations on a job well done.

We will keep the campus community posted if any changes to our current plans become necessary. Specific details for those able to attend will be sent soon.

For media inquiries, please contact: Ron Ozio at University Communications: 215-898-8658 ozio@upenn.edu