Skip to main content

A Message from President Kathleen McCartney Regarding Commencement and Reunions, March 18, 2020

Dear Members of the Smith Community,

It has only been eight days since we asked students to leave campus, if at all possible, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith was among the first colleges to do so, and it is clear that we made the right decision. Since then, my team and I have made countless decisions to mitigate the spread of this virus, for example, by working remotely, as I am doing now.

Yet, there is one decision we have delayed: whether to hold Commencement and Reunions. Like many governors, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has ordered the cancellation of all gatherings of 25 or more people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave similar guidance, recommending that events with more than 50 people be canceled for the next eight weeks. Given that Commencement and Reunion were scheduled soon after, it is with a heavy heart that we have made the decision to cancel these events.

I know that this is a great disappointment to many, especially our seniors and their families. And I recognize that many members of our community will need to cancel travel arrangements. Yet I am confident that most, if not all, of you will agree that this is a prudent decision that protects the best interests of our community and the communities beyond the Grécourt Gates. It is imperative that we do everything we can to mitigate the spread of this virus and to save lives.

For our seniors: Please know how deeply sorry the faculty and staff are that we will not be able to award your diplomas in person this May. When we are on the other side of this pandemic, we will determine a way to recognize the great class of 2020 and to celebrate your many achievements. Last weekend I saw so many of you taking photos by the pond in your caps and gowns; it warmed my heart. I know how hard it was for you to leave this place. We are exploring ways to celebrate with you virtually.

For our alums: I know this news is equally heartbreaking for you. So many of you return every five years to honor your Smith experience, especially the friendships you made here. The communities you have built span nations, time zones and generations. Every year, you demonstrate the power of the Smith network as you share the joy of returning to this campus. We will find a time to come back together and celebrate. We are exploring ways to reschedule your reunion; however, for now we think it is best for us to give a full refund to those of you who have registered.

For the past seven years, Smith alums have inspired me with their love of this college. In challenging times, we know that Smithies rise. Within a day of my announcement regarding COVID-19, alums wrote asking how they could support our students financially. To date, 400 alums have donated more than $53,000 in emergency funding for current students. At the same time, our students rallied in support of one another. Student Government President Rosalie Toupin ’20 has requested that the majority of the remaining funds from the Student Activities Fee be allocated to support students who need computers, travel assistance and more.

For our students: We are committed to prorated reimbursements for room and board; we are adjusting work-study expectations in every need-based financial aid package this spring; we have distributed more than $60,000 in emergency travel funding to approximately 160 students; and we have ensured that the 300 students who cannot return home can remain on campus.

For our staff and faculty: All benefits-eligible employees will continue to be paid (and they will not have to use sick time or vacation time to receive a paycheck). Further, we have established a fund to help families apply for help with medical care and other unexpected COVID-19–related expenses.

The faculty is hard at work adapting their courses so that students can learn through alternate modes of instruction. They are rising to the challenge with a growth mind-set, becoming learners themselves. Staff members are approaching their work with flexibility, dedication and care. I am so proud and grateful to my faculty and staff colleagues.

It seems that every day presents more difficult adjustments that we must all make in responding to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet I remain grateful for this strong community. And I remain hopeful as individuals practice social distancing and as scientists work to develop needed tests and vaccines.

I am also heartened by everyday acts of kindness I see on the news—children giving concerts for elderly neighbors, virtual birthday parties for people of all ages, and neighbors sharing supplies and groceries with people who cannot leave their homes. Let us take heart and take care as we meet this challenge together with fortitude and grace.


Kathleen McCartney