April 10, 2020

Commencement is not an end; it is a beginning.

Dear students, staff, and faculty:

Yesterday was Charter Day, celebrating Gallaudet’s 156th anniversary.  This year’s Commencement was to be historic. It would be our 150th Commencement. With great sorrow, I announce that we will not be able to hold a physical Commencement on May 15. The guidance that we have received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayor of the District of Columbia, and the medical and public health communities is that we must continue to maintain social distance and not congregate in large groups for the foreseeable future.

Everyone who has attended our Commencement exercises in the past knows that they are events to remember for a lifetime. We open with a Samba-Reggae performance by Batala Washington, an all-female Afro-Brazilian percussion band. Led by a marshal carrying the university mace, the university officers, faculty, and our undergraduate and graduate classes march in and take their seats. Our faculty is in colorful academic regalia, and many of our graduates have customized their mortarboards and gowns. There follows much pageantry: the Gallaudet Dance Company, an ASL rendition of the National Anthem, my welcome address, words of wisdom from our Board of Trustees chair and Alumni Association president, the recognition of distinguished active and retired members of our faculty, student presenters, the keynote presenter, and the awarding of honorary degrees.

All this is a prelude to the most exciting part of the program: the awarding of “collegiate degrees” — doctoral, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees, with special recognition to those students who graduate with academic honors and those who complete our undergraduate Honors Program. Each student who crosses the stage has completed their academic journey and accomplished their goal. Our students are justifiably jubilant, and show their happiness and appreciation in the most heartwarming ways. Our ceremony ends with a recessional, whereupon our newest alumni are reunited with their families and friends, their entire lives ahead of them.

Like all university presidents, I live for Commencement. It is, for me, the most exciting day of the year. This year was to have been my fifth Commencement. More significantly, it was to be my first Commencement with an undergraduate class that entered after I became President. I have known the members of the Class of 2020 since they came to campus in Fall 2016. Many of them honored me with their presence at my inauguration that fall, and I was looking forward to honoring them at their graduation this May.

My heart aches for our graduates and their families. They have looked forward to this day for years. We must find ways to celebrate our graduates’ accomplishments, and we will. We are discussing a number of options with the Class of 2020 and the Graduate Student Association. We will share more details as we finalize our alternate plans. Rest assured that we will find ways to have fun and to celebrate!

I want to close with a final thought.

The coronavirus-19 pandemic may have upended this year’s Commencement, but it has not diminished our resolve. Rather, it has strengthened it. We will not let it detract from our graduates’ sense of accomplishment and joy.



Roberta J. Cordano