As graduation season approaches, preparation for commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020, 2020.5 and 2022 has begun.
Per tradition, commencement for the class of 2022 will be held on May 29, the Sunday before Memorial Day. But unlike previous years the college will also welcome the return of another class — the class of 2020 — that week. With their initial graduation shifted to a virtual format due to the Covid-19 pandemic, members of the class of 2020 and 2020.5 will be able to celebrate their graduation in person on Tuesday, May 31.
Director of Event Management Jennifer Erwin and her team considered many factors while planning such a large institutional event. They evaluated staff resources and schedules, as well as the availability of facilities, event spaces and the commencement speakers. They also took into account the feasibility of hosting specific pre-graduation events for each class.
“Having to work with a compressed schedule, we focused our planning on a few of the important events that students wanted and would best provide connection and bring the graduates together,” Erwin said.
This year’s commencement is also affected by other large-scale events happening at or around Middlebury. This includes three different reunions — one of which almost coincides with the ceremonies — the Memorial Day parade in downtown Middlebury, and the opening of the summer sessions at the Bread Loaf School of English, Bread Loaf Writers' Conferences and Middlebury Language Schools.
After deliberation, the college ultimately decided to hold the ceremony for the class of 2022 on the usual Sunday and the ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2020.5 on a Tuesday. This will allow the college enough time to turn over and make needed adjustments to the campus to prepare for each ceremony and event.
Even so, two ceremonies, especially so close to one another, require a lot of preparation and organization, according to Erwin.
Planning began during fall 2021. The college had to locate venues for the events, determine the availability of equipment set-ups, staff the events, contact support services, design informational websites and invitations, and provide meals and picnics.
Since so much effort has gone into preparing for these two events, Erwin said she and her team carefully planned these two ceremonies “as almost a mirror in many ways.” From the equipment setups to the ceremonial aspects, they hope to minimize any additional impact on staffing resources while keeping in line with traditional commencement ceremonies. “This spring’s commencement ceremonies are both exciting to plan and challenging at the same time,” Erwin said.
With the loosening of pandemic restrictions, many welcome the return of an in-person celebration. The challenge remains to ensure the college has available resources and employees — from faculty and staff to outside contracted services — which are integral to the commencement weekend.
Erwin is confident that the double commencement will be a success.
“Middlebury College’s commitment to providing a robust, fun, and well-earned celebration of our students’ achievements has steered us through these challenges,” she said.