College to finish school year remotely; online commencement planned

MIDDLEBURY — After considering the recommendations of state and national health experts, as well as the increasingly restrictive social distancing policies that have been imposed at home and abroad to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Middlebury College announced on Thursday that in-person classes will remain suspended for the rest of the school year and that its May 24 commencement will be held “virtually.”

The class of 2020 will eventually have an in-person graduation ceremony, sometime this year or next, conditions permitting.

Reunion 2020, which was scheduled for the first weekend of June, has also been canceled.

“As we constantly monitor the situation here in Middlebury — and keep up with what is happening across the country and the world, wherever you are right now — we have concluded that there is only one responsible and safe path to take regarding the remainder of the spring semester and commencement,” said President Laurie Patton in a campus-wide email Thursday.

The cancelation of in-person events that normally bring thousands of people to Middlebury each spring for commencement and reunions will likely be another blow to local restaurants, hotels and shops. Local businesses — particularly those in downtown Middlebury — have been hurt by the Rail Bridges project and now COVID-19 restrictions.

Middlebury College announced on March 10 that it would suspend in-person classes until at least April, and that it would send most students home, where they would continue their studies remotely.

After an extended spring break, students have just completed their first week of online learning, which Patton said was “going fairly smoothly.”

Now that students must stay home for the rest of the semester, the college is developing a plan for returning whatever belongings were left behind by students last month, and college officials will be contacting remote students with information about credits and refunds for room and board.

Details about the in-person graduation will be announced as soon as it is feasible, and Patton said the college will do everything it can to make it affordable and equitable for people to return to campus.

After discussing the commencement plan with Middlebury students on the “Senior Committee,” Patton said the seniors had this message for their peers:

“We want you to know that we sympathize with the extreme feelings of loss we know many of you are experiencing. That being said, we are fully committed to creating a plan that includes the whole class and adheres to Commencement traditions. In that pursuit, we are planning on conducting two senior celebrations: one a remote ceremony on May 24, 2020, and one in-person, on-campus celebration to occur on a later date. The dates for the in-person celebration will be relayed as soon as it is feasible to do so. Additionally, we are committed to providing financial support so students can return to campus for the celebration. The College administration, SGA, and Senior Committee are all working together and will be reaching out for your input. We look forward to celebrating the many achievements of the Class of 2020 with all of you soon.”

Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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Addison County Independent