March 19 Update


After extensive consultation with staff, faculty and students, as well as Oxy’s COVID Operations Group, President Elam offers an update on 2021 Commencement.

To the Oxy Community:

After extensive consultation with staff, faculty and students, as well as Oxy’s COVID Operations Group, I’d like to provide an update on 2021 Commencement. 

Throughout our many months of planning we have been guided by a desire to properly honor our graduating seniors by allowing them to experience this special milestone, while abiding by applicable health and safety guidance from Los Angeles County and the state of California. A senior survey conducted in February and a March 2 town hall with graduating seniors have also been instrumental in informing our efforts. Determining a path forward during a year in which the county has required us to be remote, with only 60% of our seniors currently in the area, has certainly added complexity to our planning. However, recent changes in state guidelines covering outdoor events, and L.A. County’s move out of the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier on Monday, have opened up new possibilities.

Given the recent regulatory changes, we plan to offer an outdoor, in-person conferral of degrees in Hillside Theater at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 16. Please note, however, that due to current state guidelines that specify attendance limits for outdoor events, we anticipate that only graduating students will be able to attend. The ceremony will be live-streamed for family and friends to share in this special moment. Safety protocols including mask wearing and social distancing will be strictly enforced. All other Commencement weekend events, including cultural graduations, will be virtual.

A major factor in our decision to hold a live Commencement was the feedback we received from seniors—the strong desire to be on campus one more time, combined with the high percentage of students who told us they would return for an in-person event. Still we recognize that a significant number of seniors are not currently living near campus, and we have carefully considered the equity implications of having an in-person event if all students cannot attend.  For seniors on need-based financial aid, the College will provide financial support to assist them with travel and lodging expenses associated with attending Commencement. 

While we can have an in-person conferral of degrees, current county regulations do not allow us to offer campus housing for seniors wishing to return for Commencement who are not already in campus housing. This could change between now and May, however out-of-town students will have the option of finding accommodations near campus in order to participate. We encourage any student planning to return to campus to follow all applicable health and safety guidelines, which currently include a 10-day quarantine period after arriving in Los Angeles from out of state, even if you have tested negative.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of being remote this year is that the entire Class of 2021 has not been able to be together in person this year. Whether through force of circumstances or by choice, some of our seniors will not be able to attend in person on May 16. Making all other events for Commencement weekend virtual will ensure that everyone can participate in the weekend’s activities. In addition, we are planning to read the names of all students at the in-person event. 

Even so, looking beyond this year, the College plans to offer an in-person opportunity for any student who is not able to attend in person this year. We are still working out the details, but our plan is that any student from the Classes of 2021 and 2020 who would like to walk on stage and hear their name read aloud with family in attendance will be able to do so. This would conceivably take place during Commencement weekend in future years beginning in 2022. 

Regarding the Class of 2020, we made a commitment to them last spring for an in-person event to celebrate their achievement. Today we informed them of our plans for an in-person, student-only event during Reunion Weekend, June 11-13.

We know there will be many questions about logistics for the day, support for out-of-town students and other issues, and we are committed to keeping everyone fully informed as we firm up our plans. Over the coming days and weeks between now and May 16, we will be adding information, resources and FAQs to the Commencement website on a regular basis. Specific questions can also be sent to commencement@oxy.edu

Importantly, we all know and have seen that in times of a pandemic conditions can change. We will continue to monitor our own circumstances and public health guidelines and adjust our plans accordingly. Should conditions improve, we may consider expanding the scope of the ceremony, potentially to include guests. On the other hand, should the situation worsen, we may be forced to make the event entirely virtual. Whatever the case may be, I am grateful to Oxy staff, whose tireless efforts and selfless dedication to our students will make it possible to put on such complex events under such short timelines and challenging conditions. 

We appreciate your flexibility and understanding as we do our best to honor our students and support the health and safety of our entire community. 

Very best,
President Elam