April 1, 2020: COVID-19 Update (Commencement and other event updates)

For the latest updates visit COVID-19 Updates.

Dear Members of the RISD Community,

Today I write to share a number of decisions and updates concerning RISD Commencement, other landmark spring semester events, and summer programming. While there is information in this communication for all members of our community, I want to especially speak to students and your families today, as this news most directly and deeply impacts you.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to progress, predictions for when it will recede remain uncertain. Still, it has become increasingly clear that we cannot hold Commencement and other academic year-end traditions this spring as planned. This is truly one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as president, and I make it after considering many alternatives. I wish for nothing more than to bring our campus community back together, especially for our most special and celebratory milestones. Commencement is one of our most anticipated annual events, one that marks the extraordinary accomplishments of our graduating students and represents a lifetime milestone years in the making. Personally, Commencement is one of the most joyous moments of being a president, as all of us—faculty, staff, trustees and honored guests—come together to celebrate your proud accomplishments in the company of your families, friends and partners.

To fully honor all of you, we want to convene a RISD Commencement (including the Graduate Hooding) at a time when it will be safe to do so, and when travel is possible. Therefore, our plan is to postpone our Commencement festivities to October (specific date to be determined) in conjunction with RISD Weekend. I write “our plan” because there is still global uncertainty, but we hope that the COVID-19 circumstances at that point will allow us to hold a complete recognition of your RISD achievements and your degree conferral. Scheduled to be held October 9-11, RISD Weekend is our annual alumni reunion and family weekend. Hosting these traditions around the same time and bringing these various parts of the extended RISD family together this year will be a special way for the entire RISD community to honor and celebrate the Class of 2020; and I believe that this particular graduating class will especially need that confluence of so many celebrants to welcome you into the fold as our newest alumni.

Students who complete their degree requirements will have their degrees conferred at the end of the semester as usual and become RISD graduates and alumni. This way, those of you who are starting jobs or internships will have the distinct official credential of the RISD degree that you earned, deserve, and worked so hard to achieve. While we have to make new plans, our hope and intention is to fully recognize your important accomplishments. We will send more details in the coming weeks as we finalize plans for the 2020 celebration of this conferral of degrees.

We will continue to keep you and your families informed as planning around specifics for the Commencement ceremony, Graduate Hooding, and other events for the graduating class are clarified; there is much to adapt to and plan for in a new way. We know returning to campus next fall may be a challenge for many of you, and we are currently working on associated planning to offer assistance to those of you who may need financial support for travel and accommodations. We are also looking at the possibility of creating a few global Commencement events in places that large groups of our international students call home, to offer another way to celebrate those from far away who are unable to return in the fall.

In addition to Commencement, we have also been evaluating and altering plans for other spring events, exhibitions, and summer programming. Please view an update from our academic leadership team.

I hope that having a sense of Commencement discussions for this year will bring some relief, especially during such a stressful time, one that is full of uncertainties. We are aware that this decision may create new complexities for some of you, and we will try to work with each of you to resolve what we can. As we look at all of the work that was necessary to successfully resume classes with such short notice, we are reminded every day that RISD remains a resilient and collaborative community of artists, scholars, and makers. I hope we can continue to support each other and move forward with purpose and with collective support and care.

Rosanne Somerson

Information & Support Resources
If you are a student in need of assistance of any kind, please contact studaff@risd.edu.
For the latest information from RISD on COVID-19 and answers to frequently asked questions, please visit risd.edu/covid.

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