HWS Commencement

This 2018 file photo shows the quad at Hobart and William Smith, site of the Colleges’ annual Commencement ceremony. This year’s event, which had been scheduled May 17, was postponed indefinitely.

GENEVA — There will be no music, no caps and gowns, no traditional regalia, and no beaming parents today on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Commencement won’t be happening on the quad. The coronavirus outbreak took care of that.

However, the Colleges said the ceremony is not canceled at this point, just delayed.

“Yes, we will do an in-person ceremony,” HWS spokesperson Cathy Williams said. “It just won’t happen on May 17. We are looking at a variety of options and associated logistics to make sure that we give our graduates the kind of ceremony and celebration they deserve.”

HWS President Joyce Jacobsen isn’t going to let May 17 go by without mention. In a message to the HWS community last week, Jacobsen said that on Sunday, “I will send an email that acknowledges the official conferring of their degrees on that date and that will include messages from members of our community.”

The Colleges will announce by early June a new commencement date, Jacobsen indicated.

She noted the many on-campus celebratory events that traditionally mark the week leading up to graduation that aren’t happening because HWS students left the campus in March, with distance learning initiated so they could complete their spring semester studies. Jacobsen admires their ability to persevere through unfathomable times.

“Although the pandemic has forced us to postpone our normal graduation festivities to a later date, it has not dampened our pride in our graduates’ accomplishments,” she said. “If anything, their ability to achieve this life milestone now amidst these circumstances only heightens my admiration.”

Jacobsen pointed out that May 12 was the last day of finals for students.

“I remain impressed with the resiliency and creativity of our faculty, staff and students as they adapted to this unexpected situation and heeded the advice of healthcare officials,” she said.

As for the fall semester, the HWS president remains optimistic students will return to the Geneva campus in August.

“We have every intention of opening in person this fall and welcoming our new classes of 2024 to campus,” Jacobsen said. “We are, of course, also considering a range of scenarios so as to stay flexible as conditions develop.”

Three task forces have been created to address how HWS will reopen to students this fall, Jacobsen explained.

• The Logistics Task Force, headed Mary Coffey, provost and dean of faculty, and Robb Flowers, vice president for campus life, and including faculty, staff and students, will examine reopening requirements by state and/or federal officials that will likely address social distancing, enhanced cleaning, regular medical testing and quarantine protocols. “This work includes planning for multiple models of instruction that can flex to respond to the health and safety of the community and any further surges in the virus,” Jacobsen said.

• The Financial Task Force, led by incoming Craig Stine, chair of the HWS Board of Trustees and including trustees and senior staff members, is examining the financial implications of the pandemic.

• The Community Coordination Task Force, led by Lou Guard, vice president and general counsel, and Flowers, and comprised of regional officials, health care leaders, local alums, parents, politicians and community leaders. Their charge, said Jacobsen, is to “manage the safe opening of the Colleges in the context of Geneva, Ontario County and the Finger Lakes region as a whole.”

Jacobsen said she is in “continuous contact” with a number of New York colleges to share ideas “and, where appropriate, costs.”

She said HWS is in good financial condition, with a number of cost-cutting and efficiency efforts initiated prior to the outbreak. A incentivized retirement program also was instituted, Jacobsen noted.

HWS enjoyed its second-largest fundraising year in its history, with financial commitments topping $25 million, the HWS president said.

Jacobsen said the Colleges also received about $1.57 million in CARES Act money. Half will be used to help eligible students “adversely affected by the pandemic,” and the other half will address the Colleges’ budget deficit caused by COVID-19, she noted.

HWS has been able to avoid pay cuts or furloughs, Jacobsen said, but “there is consensus on the part of our trustees and the senior leadership team that we may need to do so over the summer. If so, these measures will be temporary until the economic effects of the pandemic recede.”

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