With Commencement postponed until May 2021, Brown will honor 2020 graduates virtually

As this spring’s unprecedented semester nears its end at Brown University, and Class of 2020 undergraduate, graduate and medical students move closer to earning their degrees, Brown will honor their accomplishments on May 24, virtually.

And in May 2021 — one year after a series of Virtual Degree Conferral ceremonies take place this month amid the ongoing uncertainty of the global coronavirus pandemic — Brown will welcome this year’s graduates back to campus. The University will honor both the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 in a joint Commencement and Reunion Weekend celebration.

Brown President Christina H. Paxson shared news of the double Commencement set for May 2021 in a May 6 letter to the University community. While she had hoped the state of the COVID-19 pandemic would allow for a rescheduled on-campus Commencement celebration in October 2020, the likelihood of large gatherings being feasible in the fall is minimal, she wrote.

“I am looking forward to the Virtual Degree Conferral ceremony on May 24,” Paxson wrote to Brown’s soon-to-be graduates. “None of us expected that we would be apart for this important moment marking your achievements at Brown, but we already are planning ahead for the time we can be together again to cheer on the Class of 2020 for the celebration of Commencement.”

With in-person Commencement activities for the Class of 2020 postponed, the University will host three concurrent Virtual Degree Conferral ceremonies on Sunday, May 24 — one for undergraduates, another for master’s and doctoral candidates, and a third for medical students.

Each will enable students completing their studies at Brown to mark together the milestone of earning their degrees, celebrating virtually through video and social media.

Beginning at 1 p.m. on May 24, graduating students, their families and members of the Brown community will be able to access all three ceremonies on the University’s Virtual Degree Conferral ceremonies website. With the exception of the reading of the Physician’s Oath during the medical school ceremony, all elements of the ceremonies will be prerecorded to enable participation from all graduates — who, because of COVID-19, will be tuning in from locations and time zones across the globe.

Paxson, who traditionally confers bachelor’s degrees during Commencement and Reunion Weekend, will this year confer degrees to Class of 2020 graduates of the Graduate School and Warren Alpert Medical School as well.

Each new graduate will receive a digital version of their diploma via email the week of June 1. The University will mail a printed diploma, as well as a program with the names of all members of the 2020 graduating class, to each graduate by mid-June.


The College, which oversees undergraduate education at Brown, expects to confer bachelor’s degrees upon approximately 1,800 graduates at its Virtual Degree Conferral ceremony. Dean of the College Rashid Zia will preside, and Paxson will present a symbolic degree to William Zhou, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students.

Zhou will give brief remarks to his fellow College graduates. The College will reserve the historic tradition of Brown’s senior orator addresses until next spring’s on-campus ceremony.


The Graduate School expects to confer degrees upon approximately 950 master’s students and doctoral candidates at its Virtual Degree Conferral ceremony. Presided over by Andrew G. Campbell, the Graduate School dean, the ceremony will include the presentation of annual student and staff awards.

It will also include addresses by two student speakers, each chosen in a process overseen by the Graduate Student Council: Miroslava Nikolaeva Nikolova, who will earn a Ph.D. in Slavic Studies, and Abdullah Shihipar, who will receive a master’s degree in public health.

A virtual slideshow that will include each graduate’s name and degree, as well as doctoral candidates’ dissertation topics, will be available on Brown’s Virtual Degree Conferral ceremony website.


The Warren Alpert Medical School will honor 137 graduates — including roughly 50 who elected to graduate early to join the fight against coronavirus — in a Virtual Degree Ceremony presided over by Dr. Jack A. Elias, dean of the medical school and senior vice president for health affairs.

The ceremony will include a faculty address given by Dr. Beth Gentilesco, associate professor of medicine, and a student address given by Dr. Sheyla Medina. Both speakers were chosen by the medical students of the Class of 2020. Another feature of the ceremony will be the presentation of the Medical Senior Citation, the highest honor that the graduating medical school class can bestow, to Dr. Allan R. Tunkel, senior associate dean for medical education.

The medical school’s ceremony will also include the only live component of the University’s Virtual Degree Conferral ceremonies: a virtual reading of the Physician’s Oath — which the medical school’s first dean and graduating class wrote together in 1975 — by the Class of 2020. Graduating students have been asked to don their white physician’s coats for this portion of the ceremony.

A slideshow presentation created by the Class of 2020 will be another highlight.


Full program listings for all three ceremonies are available on Brown’s Virtual Degree Conferral and Commencement ceremonies website.

As part of the virtual events, the University has invited graduates and their families to share their moments of celebration on social media using the hashtags #Brown2020 and #BrownU. These posts will be published in real-time on Brown’s FacebookInstagram and Twitter pages.