In a website update on March 9, Barnard College announced a plan for Spring 2021 commencement: a virtual ceremony paired with socially-distanced, outdoor events for individual departments.

In an address to members of the graduating class, President Sian Beilock and Dean of the College Leslie Grinage announced that the Class of 2021 Commencement Ceremony will be carried out virtually on Thursday, April 29, at 6 pm. This decision was made due to the inability to predict the state of COVID-19 safety come April. The virtual ceremony, which is currently in development, will include an interactive “blue carpet,” per the statement, as well as the traditional reading of the names of the graduates. In addition to the virtual ceremony, students, faculty, and staff will be invited to participate in socially-distanced gatherings on the week of April 25 under the newly-constructed Futter Field tents

Graduating students will also participate in the Columbia University Commencement, which will occur via web broadcast, on April 30 at 10:30 am. This commencement ceremony includes the graduating classes of each University program, school, and college.

The statement, released less than two weeks after Columbia University’s, linked to a survey for students to leave suggestions as to how the College should honor the Spring 2021 graduates in the future when public health guidelines permit larger in-person gatherings and unrestricted travel.  

The full March 9 statement is included below:

Dear Barnard Seniors,

We know you and your families are eager to hear more about Barnard’s Commencement for the Class of 2021, and we write to share updates with you.

We have spent the past several months in discussion with the University and closely monitoring cases in New York City in the hope that we would be able to hold a socially distanced graduation for the Class of 2021 outside on Columbia’s campus. However, as New York State and local guidelines continue to limit the size of gatherings to no more than 200 people, along with continued travel risks, we have come to the sad conclusion that this, unfortunately, will not be possible. 

We waited as long as we could to come to this decision. However, we know you and your families need to make plans, and since it remains too difficult to predict when these guidelines might change, we have decided to move ahead and hold our Class of 2021 Commencement ceremony virtually on Thursday, April 29, at 6 p.m. (EDT). We selected this time to account for the many different time zones in an effort to allow you and your family and friends to participate.

We know this news is deeply disappointing, especially for students who have been anticipating this moment and for their families, many of whom have looked forward to coming to New York to celebrate. Although we cannot come together in person for Commencement as you may have envisioned, we plan to acknowledge your incredible accomplishments by celebrating your class in multiple ways. 

We plan to hold smaller, socially distanced in-person gatherings for the Class of 2021 with faculty and staff the week of April 25 under the Futter Field tent, with many of these gatherings organized by major. All seniors will be able to pick up their cap and gown, or we will mail them to you. Finally, we are developing a virtual Commencement program to recognize this truly momentous and special occasion — one that will include the traditional reading of names to individually recognize each graduate as well as an interactive “blue carpet.” 

The virtual ceremony will also include presentations of the Medals of Distinction, remarks to the class of 2021, and the announcement of the recipient of the inaugural Alicia L. Lawrence Memorial Award, to be given to a student who leads with the same light and strength of our colleague, mentor, and friend to so many, who passed away this past year.

In addition to the Barnard ceremony, our graduates also participate in the Columbia University Commencement, a larger ceremony that includes all of the University’s 18 schools, colleges, and affiliated institutions. Given the size of this event, this year’s ceremony will take place on Friday, April 30, at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) via web broadcast. 

We are also committed to honoring your graduation in the future, when we can get together in person in larger numbers than the current health conditions allow. We invite you to fill out this survey so that you can provide input into how best to do this.

We will continue to update the Commencement web page to keep you posted as more details become available. If you have any particular questions, email 

In the meantime, know that we are committed to celebrating your graduation with all the pomp and circumstance it deserves.


Sian Leah Beilock, President

Leslie Grinage, Dean of the College

Update 3/10/2021: Barnard seniors and their families received emails regarding the 2021 Virtual Commencement.

Update 3/10/2021:
Barnard Media and Communications responded to our inquiries.

Regarding any consideration of the mass vaccinated population that could occur in June/July and why the College would not hold commencement socially distanced and in person at that time, a Barnard spokesperson said that “We are pleased that vaccinations are increasingly becoming widely available; however, we wanted to plan a safe and timely ceremony for the Class of 2021 that would include their friends and family members. New York State and local guidelines currently limit gatherings to no more than 200 people, which necessitated a virtual celebration.”

Regarding the potential of future graduation ceremonies to include the classes of 2020 and 2021 together or for future graduation ceremonies to separate the two classes, a Barnard spokesperson said that “The Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020 received a survey about ways we might celebrate their achievements in the future and we will use the survey results to help inform future planning.”

Commencement Ceremony Pre-COVID Via