Northwestern’s commencement ceremony will be held virtually, President Morton Schapiro announced today, marking the first time in 162 years the ceremony will not be held in person.
In a letter to the University community earlier today, Schapiro also announced that Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, a key voice — and face — of social distancing, will deliver the commencement address at the June 19 ceremony.
Schapiro said the decision to make commencement virtual was difficult but was made in consultation with public officials and public health authorities. Based on their guidance, it simply was not safe to hold the ceremony in person. He said the University will hold a campus event saluting the graduates at a still-to-be-determined date in the future.
“I share our graduates’ disappointment that a moment for which they have worked so hard will culminate in a manner so unlike that in typical years,” Schapiro said. “But our Northwestern community is committed to honoring them with all our heart. A virus will not stop the work of Northwestern, nor will it diminish our intention to create a graduation worthy of the Class of 2020.”
Part of that effort is having Lightfoot serve as commencement speaker. The Chicago mayor has been widely praised for her handling of the pandemic. Using a combination of humor and decisive leadership, Lightfoot has become a leading figure in urging Chicagoans, and others, to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Memes of her appearing in iconic Chicago locations — empty of people — have gone viral on social media. Her “Stay Home, Save Lives” campaign has garnered international attention.
“Lori Lightfoot has consistently reminded us of society’s obligation to serve everyone, and she has worked tirelessly toward that end,” Schapiro said. “As the mayor of one of the world’s great cities, she has committed Chicago to being a model for solutions to urban challenges around the globe.
“In recent weeks, our new mayor has emerged as a national leader, hailed for wise and decisive actions — and a warm and reassuring sense of humor — to protect her city and its citizens,” Schapiro said. “As someone who has broken barriers and expanded our sense of possibility, she is the ideal commencement speaker for us as we conclude our historic commemoration of 150 Years of Women at Northwestern.”
Lightfoot said she is honored to deliver the commencement address.
“As we struggle to navigate a global public health crisis that is truly without precedent, we are also presented with a historic moment for our city that is filled with untold possibilities,” she said. “By working together as true partners and collaborators, we will be able to double-down on our investments in our communities, expand opportunity to every resident, and transform the economic map of our city for generations to come. I am deeply honored to be able to share this renewed mission with Northwestern’s graduating class as they embark on their own journey to remake the world as an inclusive, just and sustainable home for us all.”
Schapiro said the June 19 commencement ceremony will still be held at 9:30 a.m., as scheduled, but online. Other details of the ceremony are still being finalized and will be communicated in the coming weeks. Individual schools within Northwestern will announce their plans in the coming weeks as well for previously scheduled convocations. Updates will be posted on Northwestern’s commencement website.