A Message Regarding Accommodations for In-Person Commencement

March 25, 2021

Dear Students,

We are writing to follow up on our ongoing conversation regarding the overlap between Penn Commencement and the Shavuot holiday this year.  We know this presents a significant conflict for you, our observant students. As you may know, we set the academic calendar three years in advance, and we consulted extensively with our colleagues in Penn Hillel as well as student leaders beginning in 2018 when we identified this conflict.  We want to emphasize that we are committed now, as we were then, to making sure any eligible observant senior can take part in the in-person ceremony if they choose to attend.

Although we are now able to invite graduating seniors to take part in an in-person ceremony on May 17, we are not able to move the ceremony to a different day. The details and logistics of executing an event of this scale have been set for well over a year and it is not feasible to move the ceremony even without other in-person school ceremonies in place. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we remain confident that we can provide accommodations to allow observant seniors to be a part of the day.  

In conversations with Penn Hillel and OCP leaders, we have been focusing on the following accommodations:

Accommodations for the in-person ceremony

We will provide alternate arrangements so that students who are not using technology or carrying items during the holiday will be able to enter the ceremony at Franklin Field.  You may be asked to complete the PennOpen Pass attestation verbally at the entrance, in a way similar to how this occurs on campus now during Shabbat.

As announced earlier this week, all participants must be enrolled in the Penn Cares screening program and meet all COVID testing requirements; all testing and any pre-registration will be able to be completed at times that do not conflict with Shabbat or with the holiday.

The ceremony will be live-streamed, and a full recording will be posted for anyone to watch at a later date.

Detailed planning regarding other uses of technology during the event is still ongoing.  We understand that some students may want to seek rabbinic guidance on this topic and Penn Hillel can help facilitate this.

Please refer to the University Commencement site and FAQ for more information on who can participate in this year’s ceremony and further information on COVID testing requirements.

School Ceremonies

All other school ceremonies will be held virtually.  Recordings for these ceremonies will be posted for anyone to view at a later date.

Housing, Dining, and Religious Services

We are working with Residential Services and CHAS to accommodate seniors living on-campus who are unable to move out during the holiday.  We will also work with Penn Dining and Penn Hillel to provide options for kosher dining and religious services during the holiday.

We will continue to work on these accommodations to ensure that all who want to participate are able to do so and we will be in touch with further details as they are available.  In the meantime, please contact Senior Associate Chaplain Steve Kocher at skocher@upenn.edu if you have any questions or would like to discuss any additional accommodations.

We are hopeful that every graduating senior who wants to participate in Commencement can do so. We deeply value each of you and we greatly appreciate your contributions to our campus and to our community.


Medha Narvekar, Vice President and University Secretary
Chaz Howard, Vice President of Social Equity & Community and University Chaplain



Last Updated 03/02/2021 - 09:01