Jackie Cannon ’20
On the evening of April 30, several members of the administration at the College of the Holy Cross hosted a town hall on Zoom for the Class of 2020 as the semester was coming to a close. In attendance were Rev. Philip L. Boroughs S.J., president, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Michele Murray, Provost and Dean of the College Margaret Freije, Vice President of Advancement Tracy Barlok, Vice President for Administration and Finance Dorothy Hauver, 2020 Class Dean John Anderson, Chief of Staff Jane Corr, and Director of Alumni Career Development Maura Hume Sweeney ’07.
Administrators addressed several general topics such as the Class of 2020 commencement ceremony and what future semesters will look like at Holy Cross, and they fielded specific questions from students submitted throughout the hour-long town hall. Although many questions remain unanswered, Fr. Boroughs and Dean Murray, along with the others in attendance, provided as much information as they were able to at the time.
The primary topic Fr. Boroughs addressed was what commencement might look like for the Class of 2020, given that the College has committed to hold an in-person ceremony, regardless of how long it may have to delay such an event. However, Fr. Boroughs announced for the first time to seniors that, only if it was what seniors overwhelmingly wanted, the College may reconsider moving to an exclusively virtual commencement ceremony.
Citing the latest CDC guidance that gatherings of thousands of people, like commencement ceremonies, would most likely not be feasible or safe until the spring or summer of 2021, Fr. Boroughs stated that the College would be sending a poll to seniors early next week asking if they would still like to wait up to a year or more for an in-person ceremony, or if they would prefer to do a virtual ceremony sooner. Fr. Boroughs added that he hoped seniors would still prefer an in-person graduation ceremony.
Provost Freije also shared some details regarding graduation and diplomas that many seniors had expressed confusion about. She stated that, regardless of what form commencement would take or when it would happen, members of Class of 2020 would receive their degrees on the scheduled commencement date of May 22, 2020. Provost Freije added that students would all receive an electronic diploma that they could use for proof of graduation for employers, and that students would still be receiving physical diplomas as well. If an in-person graduation takes place, students would receive their physical diplomas at that time; if not, they would receive them in the mail.
Dean Murray added to the conversation by sharing that members of the administration are working with members of the Class of 2020 to plan some of the traditional senior week events that would take place around the time of commencement ceremonies. Although the occurrence of many of these activities, such as the “Last Night on the Hill” and senior class cruise in Boston, was still undecided, Dean Murray emphasized that events would be taking place for both the Class of 2020 and family members to participate in.
Several students posed questions regarding the possibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci ’62 serving as the commencement speaker. Fr. Boroughs stated that there is already a commencement speaker scheduled, although their attendance is dependent on their availability on the undetermined date of commencement. However, Fr. Boroughs did add that he has reached out to Dr. Fauci, and, although he is extremely difficult to get in contact with right now, Fr. Boroughs stated that the College would always be happy to welcome him back.
Given the uncertain circumstances much of the world is facing right now, several seniors expressed concerns about the job market and lack of employment opportunities. The administrators in attendance stressed the Center for Career Development as an important resource for students, even after graduation. Vice President for Advancement Tracy Barlok also cited the value of the Holy Cross alumni network. She articulated that there are several activities hosted for recent grads, such as the “Welcome to Your City” party meant to unite new alumni in cities across the country.
As many students posed questions about the future semesters at Holy Cross, the administrators in attendance took the time to address some of these concerns. These points will likely be elaborated on at the general student town hall, which will be held on Sunday, May 3, at 7 p.m. EST.
The main question, which Fr. Boroughs is not yet able to answer, is regarding the ability of the campus to open for the fall semester. Fr. Boroughs stated that the College is hoping to make a decision about the fall semester by early July, and that there are many different forms the semester might end up taking. On one end of the spectrum, campus may be able to open to students again while involving some social distancing regulations such as the wearing of masks. The other extreme would be the cancellation of classes in the fall except for courses for the Class of 2021 that would allow that class year to graduate in May 2021 as expected.
There are also several other modified approaches the College is considering, such as only having some students on campus. Fr. Boroughs cited that there are four criteria that would need to be met for students, staff, and faculty to safely return to campus because safety is the first concern when considering the fall semester. The administration would need to see 1) significant slowing in transmission of virus, 2) greatly increased testing capacity, 3) contract tracing technology, and 4) assurance that health care system has capacity to treat COVID-19 patients under normal circumstances (including no longer having a need for the DCU Center field hospital).
Many different aspects of life at Holy Cross in the future remain unknown as the pandemic continues in Massachusetts and around the world. Just as the College does not know what will happen in the fall, administrators also shared that the state of athletics for the fall remains undetermined.
Furthermore, Fr. Boroughs stated that the loss of tuition from lower enrollment and the likely increased need for financial aid will have an impact on the College’s finances, although this too is difficult to know with certainty for the present. To try to mitigate future losses, Holy Cross has currently instituted a hiring freeze, will issue no salary increases for staff, and are deferring some capital projects.
Fr. Boroughs took time to share his personal reflection on the challenging times the entire community faces. Despite the uncertain and unprecedented circumstances in which seniors are leaving Holy Cross, Fr. Boroughs reminded students that periods of loss and difficulty are often causes for great personal growth. Before turning the conversation over to Dean Murray to answer student questions, Fr. Boroughs offered the following piece of advice to members of the Class of 2020: “embrace this time to glean the gift that is being offered to you.”