As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make large gatherings impossible, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) celebrated the Class of 2020 with a socially distanced commencement season as a placeholder for its traditional 152nd Commencement exercises.
Since the Class of 2020 was unable to receive diplomas in person this year, they instead received a congratulatory video message from President Laurie Leshin and commencement packages including their diplomas, commencement regalia, and other items to celebrate their successes. In total, WPI awarded 1,043 bachelor’s degrees, 674 master’s degrees, and 54 doctoral degrees.
The video message was e-mailed to undergraduate and graduate students on Saturday, May 16, dubbed “Diploma Day,” in place of the two distinct ceremonies that would have been held that week. Dressed in full regalia, Leshin told that graduates that, despite not being together to mark the occasion, “[It] doesn’t change the fact that each and every one of you has accomplished something incredible. You’ve set an extraordinary example for each other and for all of us. You’ve worked so hard, you’ve succeeded, and you are more prepared than ever for your next adventure…we hope you’ll be reminded not only of all your amazing accomplishments, but your persistence in the face of adversity. All of us—your professors, your families and friends, and, yes, even [WPI mascot] Gompei—we’re all so proud of you.”
Standing before Earle Bridge, which students traditionally walkover as first-year students during New Student Orientation and then cross again for Commencement exercises, Leshin stopped, turned, and told graduates, “You should be here. But make no mistake: Today is still your day. You’ve walked this bridge together once, and you will walk it again. I can’t wait to see you do just that. Until then, it’s my honor to wait for you.”
Leshin concluded the address by expressing her eagerness to one day hand each member of the Class of 2020 their diplomas in person, and conferred all degrees. “Congratulations, Class of 2020. We love you, we miss you, and we will see you soon,” she said.
WPI plans to hold in-person undergraduate and graduate Commencement ceremonies in the future, at a date to be announced.
In addition to Leshin’s video message, WPI is developing a digital mosaic that will feature an iconic campus location based upon photos provided by the Class of 2020.
Separately, Katherine Handy, chair of the senior class board of the undergraduate class, and Lening Li ’21, president of the Graduate Student Government, addressed the graduating classes via video, offering their congratulations and admiration for their classmates’ resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You have overcome unprecedented challenges and have successfully graduated,” said Li, a PhD student in robotics engineering. “I hope you can carry the amazing experiences you had here for the rest of your lives. Keep in touch with classmates, professors, and friends you have made here at WPI.”
On Saturday, May 30, 13 cadets of the Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC programs at WPI, Fitchburg State University, Worcester State University, and Clark University were commissioned as officers in the U.S. military during three separate Worcester Consortium of Colleges Reserve Officers’ Training (ROTC) Corps Joint Service Commissioning Ceremonies. Each ceremony took place at Fort Devens, and were showcased via Zoom in order to abide by social distancing measures. Major General (Retired) Robert Catalanotti, an alumnus of WPI’s ROTC program, presided as commissioning officer. Leshin adressed the newly commissioned officers in a video message during the ceremony held for WPI graduates.