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Together In Spirit

Marking a joyful milestone in a time of turbulence

The College’s 2020 Commencement looked vastly different from ceremonies of typical years, as COVID-19 forced the celebration to move online.

But collaborative creativity, and a few significant surprises, helped provide a day of pomp and circumstance for Swarthmore’s 418 newest alumni. 

Thousands tuned in on Sunday, May 24, for the virtual Commencement, which was prerecorded and shared via, Facebook, and YouTube. In addition to speeches by President Valerie Smith and retiring biology professor Sara Hiebert Burch ’79, the ceremony included the reading of graduates’ names, the conferral of degrees, and tribute videos and photos from the Class of 2020.

“You have risen to the occasion time and time again at one of the world’s premier liberal arts institutions, known for its intensity and academic rigor,” Smith said in her address, which was filmed in Scott Amphitheater. “This achievement would be cause for celebration under normal circumstances, but the fact that you completed the work of your final semester … under intensely adverse conditions, this is remarkable indeed.”

Also making an appearance in the virtual ceremony — in what Smith jokingly called “the closest thing to Zoom-bombing that we’ve had to deal with at Swarthmore” — was Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. While acknowledging the disappointments caused by the pandemic, Fauci encouraged the Class of 2020 to join together in helping society overcome its challenges.

“With Swarthmore’s legacy of social responsibility and community, and your reputation for innovation,” he said, “I have no doubt that you will be helping to lead the way.”

After the ceremony, gift boxes were mailed to each of the graduates containing their diplomas, Class of 2020 T-shirts, cookies from Dining Services, cuttings from the Scott Arboretum, and 6,000 congratulatory messages from the faculty and staff.