Greetings from my home here on South University in Ann Arbor. I hope that you, your families and friends are healthy and safe. I am writing to express my admiration and appreciation for the many ways that you have persevered during the COVID-19 pandemic. This semester has been one of the most challenging in the long history of the University of Michigan – for both your studies and your personal and family lives. Your resilience in the face of great adversity has been inspiring.
The pandemic forced us to move to remote instruction quickly, first for the current semester and then for our spring and summer courses. I know it was not without a few bumps, but you and your instructors adapted rapidly. We are deeply committed to providing a world-class education at U-M – and you’ve found creative ways to engage with your professors and one another to ensure that learning is as interactive and substantive as possible.
Public health guidelines and executive orders from the state have presented an array of challenges for U-M students. As we’ve worked to keep teaching and learning going, we’ve also maintained important services for those of you living on or near our campuses. I can’t thank you enough for the efforts you’ve made to help reduce density throughout this pandemic. Social distancing is essential for decreasing the spread of this epidemic, but we know it’s not easy to move away from campus or to a different room on campus while continuing your studies.
We continue to urge you to “Stay Home. Stay Safe. Save Lives.” It’s the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and has been ordered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her counterparts in most parts of the country.
I and many others in the U-M Family have been impressed by your eagerness to help your peers and the larger community. U-M students have volunteered to make hand sanitizer, supported student emergency funds, created art to inspire hope, and helped get the word out on the importance of social distancing – among many activities that address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Celebrating the Class of 2020
Many of you, especially those who are graduating, have been asking about commencement. We are still working on the details, but there are a few announcements I can share.
- We are working with members of the Ann Arbor Class of 2020 to find a future date for the official in-person commencement ceremony. We need more information before we can finalize anything, however, including when it might be safe for our graduates, their families, and the hundreds of staff who would work during the event. We’re currently looking at some time next spring. UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint have developed commencement plans to honor their graduates, as well.
- We will plan to celebrate Class of 2020 graduates this year with online and social media content on the days leading up to our previously scheduled traditional commencement ceremony. This will include special performances and greetings from our central campuses, as well as from several schools, colleges and groups. Graduates will have the opportunity to provide content, and we invite you to submit photos, videos, and quotes that capture your experience as a Wolverine. I’ll be posting my address to graduates on the morning of May 2. This won’t be an online “commencement ceremony” and will not follow any strict schedule. Rather, it’s a way to mark the day while allowing you to enjoy this content on your own schedule.
- We are waiving the previous $5 fee for graduates wishing to obtain a digital diploma. This waiver currently applies to most of our programs, and we’re working to implement it university-wide for May 2020 grads. We’ll share further information when details are finalized. (EDIT: Please note that there’s no change for traditional diplomas. U-M provides all graduates with a free traditional diploma in accordance with the degree they earn.)
Commencement is a very special time for all of us at U-M. We appreciate the work you have done to earn a University of Michigan degree, and the sacrifices made by you and your families. Like some of you, many of your instructors, the staff you interact with regularly, and members of U-M’s senior leadership team are the first in their families to earn a college degree. We all recognize how great an accomplishment this is and share the goal of making a commencement ceremony as meaningful as possible when we are able.
As we have more details about all of these developments, we’ll post them on the main commencement website. In the meantime, you can send an email with suggestions about a future ceremony to our commencement staff at email@example.com.
‘Empathize, accept, and move ahead’
The pandemic has taken from us many of the wonderful and essentially Michigan moments of spring. Together in recent years, we’ve gathered to cheer on championship runs by our athletics teams, hunkered down in our libraries to prepare for finals, or merely enjoyed the return of warm weather and sunshine with friends on our campuses. Personally, I’ll miss serving midnight breakfast at the Michigan Union during finals week later this month.
I join you in feeling the sense of loss, but a recent Michigan Daily column from student journalist Emily Ulrich urges us to “empathize, accept, and move ahead.” She writes: “Within this pandemic we can still find hope. The emptiness around the world does not instill eeriness alone. There are hints of aspiration and realization. Aspirations for things we often took for granted, like social connection. When you are restricted to FaceTime, the value of in-person conversation becomes evident. There is also a realization that places are only worth the people in them.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken much from us, we remain a strong and resilient university, in large part because of the talented students who choose U-M. We are great because you are great.
Thank you again for making U-M such a remarkable place and remaining committed to your education and to one another through these difficult times. We miss you here—the campus is just not the same without you. We’ll be in touch as more information becomes available. I look forward to being able to welcome you back to campus just as soon as we can do so safely. Please stay healthy, I wish you the best on your finals, and Go Blue!
Mark S. Schlissel