Initial details of our Spring 2021 Commencement plan

Dear Williams Seniors,

This letter shares some basic early information about our Spring 2021 Senior Celebration. It’s being shared with the whole campus, since we know many people other than seniors are interested. It will also be forwarded to families this evening.

We’re pleased to tell you that, as planned, an in-person senior celebration will be held, public health outlook permitting, on Monday, May 31, 2021. In a change from what we originally announced, and given new commencement guidelines issued by the state last Friday, Williams will allow two in-person guests per graduate. We’ll also live-stream the celebration via the Commencement website and make archived video available there for viewing around the world.

Since a traditional Senior Week isn’t possible, staff are working with the class officers to plan special senior activities on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, May 29-30. We’ll share a full schedule of events for Senior Days, as we’ve been calling the weekend, once it’s ready.

All seniors, whether on campus or studying remotely, are eligible and welcome to participate in both Senior Days and the Monday celebration in-person. We’re also pleased to include students who completed their degree requirements in December 2020, as well as those on track to complete their requirements in December 2021. Stay tuned for an invitation and further instructions regarding pre-arrival testing, quarantine and housing options.

In order to ensure that spring 2021 commencements can be held safely, Massachusetts officials are requiring extensive public health protocols. It will take time for us to fully develop plans that meet their requirements. Meanwhile, the following summary will give you and your guests a sense of what to expect:

  • The state requires that “the ceremony must be kept as brief as possible,” so our event will have to be shorter than a traditional commencement. Nevertheless, each graduating senior will have the opportunity to be recognized and walk across the stage.
  • To ensure adequate social distancing as mandated by law, we’re setting a maximum of two guests per graduate. The state’s limit of six guests per graduate was designed to accommodate schools with arenas and other high-capacity venues.
  • All attendees, including seniors, guests and faculty and staff, will be required to register and obtain tickets in advance. By law, people can only be admitted into the site with a ticket. We’ll use a contactless ticketing system, with details to follow.
  • Graduates and guests will be required to wear face coverings throughout the event.
  • Commencement will be held outside, rain or shine. In the event of a lightning storm or other hazardous conditions we’ll direct everyone safely out of the venue and switch to a fully virtual program.
  • The state’s guidelines prohibit any food or drink in the event venue.
  • The state guidelines prohibit communal gatherings and receptions before and after the ceremony itself. The college is continuing to plan Senior Days events over the preceding weekend.
  • Regretfully, participation in Senior Days has to be limited to seniors only, with no guests.
  • For contact tracing reasons, you and your guests will be required by Massachusetts law to inform Williams if you test positive for Covid in the days after the event.
  • Guests are invited to visit the travel, lodging and dining page of the Commencement website to help plan your time with us.

We know that such complex rules, as well as rapidly-changing Covid guidelines, make planning difficult for families. We expect that some will be unable to attend as a consequence. If you or your loved ones are among them, we’re truly sorry: we have to institute these policies by law, but it’s less than the full and open celebration we want for you and think you deserve.

Cautious as we have to be, however, we want this to be a moment of celebration for the senior class. Your cohort will forever be unified by a difficult experience that you’ve navigated with your share of resilience and goodwill. Looking beyond all the rules and regulations, we’re happy for you at this momentous time in your lives and look forward to telling you so in person.

Maud S. Mandel, President, Professor of History, Program in Jewish Studies
Jay Thoman ’82, College Marshal and J. Hodge Markgraf Professor of Chemistry