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Spring Sacrifices

Swarthmore made a series of the difficult decisions this semester in response to the global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, moving classes online for the remainder of the school year and closing campus to all but those students who could not return home.

The closure meant the cancellation of numerous important events, including Celebrating Black Excellence, Commencement, and Alumni Weekend.

“Considering the extraordinary circumstances before us, and in the interest of the well-being of our students, faculty, and staff, we feel a deep responsibility to do what we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — both across campus and beyond,” President Valerie Smith wrote in mid-March. “Though we are temporarily altering our normal way of life, we make these sacrifices in service to the greater good.” 

Interim measures implemented in response to the pandemic — including an extended spring break and a two-week remote-learning period — were expanded as COVID-19 grew into a global health crisis unlike anything in recent memory. Financial and logistical assistance was offered to students facing fresh challenges with remote learning environments, and campus housing and dining were provided to any student prevented from returning home because of the coronavirus.  

With these changes, however, also came the heartbreaking realization that the 2020 Commencement could not proceed as usual. 

“I appreciate how upsetting this decision is for many of you, and in particular for our seniors and their families,” President Smith wrote in the March 17 announcement. “All of us were looking forward to gathering together under the canopy of tulip and white oak trees in the Scott Amphitheater to celebrate your many achievements.”

Smith asked the Swarthmore community to save the date of Sunday, May 24, as the College planned a creative virtual alternative to this year’s ceremony. While also acknowledging the disappointment in the cancellation of this year’s Alumni Weekend, among other events, Smith vowed to find ways to make up for these missed opportunities for Swarthmoreans to come together in person.

Smith closed her community message with the motto from the Class of 1918: “Non nobis sed omnibus,” or “Not for ourselves only, but for all.”

“These words bring me comfort during this difficult and uncertain time,” she wrote. “I hope they do the same for you.”