Reunions, Alumni Meeting to Be Virtual

The alumni association announces the inevitable.

Photographic portrait of Philip W. Lovejoy, executive director, Harvard Alumni Association

Philip W. Lovejoy, executive director, Harvard Alumni AssociationPhotograph by Will Halsey/Courtesy of the Harvard Alumni Association

The Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) today notified members of reunion classes that their spring functions would be conducted virtually. In an email, Philip W. Lovejoy, HAA executive director, wrote:

In consultation with University leadership and Harvard University Health Services, this year we will host 2021 Reunions and the Annual Meeting of the HAA only virtually and will not plan any in-person gatherings.

Despite progress toward deploying vaccines against the coronavirus, he noted, travel disruptions and restrictions on gatherings are highly likely to linger throughout the spring.

Thus, reunions and the annual meeting (the “afternoon exercises” of Commencement day) are not being canceled; for the second year in a row, they are shifting to an online format. Reunion events will take place from June 3 to June 5, and the annual meeting on June 4. Postponement was not an option, Lovejoy has explained: reunions would stack up over time, so they could not be accommodated if deferred a year, and the situation on campus next fall (whether students, who are likely last in the vaccination queue, will be present on campus, and if so under what conditions) cannot be reasonably determined.

Reunion classes are arranging programs suited to their needs and preferences, but the HAA is also deploying common, virtual experiences for all reunions throughout the academic year. For instance, Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana, dean of students Katie O’Dair, and dean of undergraduate education Amanda Claybaugh are scheduled to hold a conversation on December 16 for Harvard and Radcliffe alumni in the reunion classes. Other virtual reunion events include a January conversation with Provost Alan Garber, and a March conversation with President Lawrence S. Bacow—traditional features of the reunion events each spring.

Today’s announcement is not a surprise. Lovejoy signaled in October that in the event reunions and the annual meeting could be held in person, they would necessarily be hosted “at a time when students are not on campus,” to assure de-densification and social distancing. Thus, the separation of the Morning Exercises from the afternoon schedule had already been determined. He also said then that reunions and the annual meeting would be conducted together, “in the first week of June”—and that if the decision were made to go online, that schedule would still hold. Today’s announcement clarifies the inevitable: it will not be safe, or logistically possible, to have on-campus, in-person alumni events come spring. 

As for Commencement plans—stay tuned. That decision falls to the central administration. Given the obvious constraints (that students are scheduled for vaccination later than most other cohorts; that vaccine supplies are limited; and that for most University schools, most students are not in residence this spring), the odds strongly favor a second consecutive online graduation. Does anyone reasonably expect students who have been studying remotely suddenly to fly in for Commencement? But a decision and official announcement are still some months off.  

Read more articles by: John S. Rosenberg

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