The coronavirus pandemic continues to accelerate and was recently declared a national emergency by President Trump. The President also urged public gatherings be ten or fewer. This was shortly after Governors Brown of Oregon and Newsom of California declared each state a disaster area. Just this evening Governor Newsom ordered all California residents to remain in place (except essential workers in sectors deemed critical by federal infrastructure guidelines) and it is likely Oregon Governor Brown will soon order the same.
Given these governmental directives and given what is expected to be weeks – perhaps months – of increased risk, 2020 Commencement Exercises in the form of public gatherings are, sadly, cancelled. Moreover, our campuses shall remain closed at least through April and, in all probability, through the end of the academic year.
This action, totally unprecedented in University history, derives from a strong consensus from many heartfelt discussions – both internal as with the Board of Trustees, Senior Executives, Deans, and many others as well as external, with governmental and public health officials.
The pandemic will one day run its course, but no one knows when.
Of course, cancellation is a profound disappointment for all, especially our graduates and families. We are also keenly aware of how important such a milestone is and the unique delights of Commencement – first and foremost for our graduating students and their families, but also for faculty, preceptors, mentors, and everyone associated with the University.
We always strive to promote health but, now, we must also follow the law. It is, moreover, timely to allow students and all involved to plan accordingly. Together we should look beyond personal distress, much less formal legal declarations, to reflect how the enhancement and extension of life is at the very heart of what we do.
We share a commitment to the WesternU Mission, “To produce, in a humanistic tradition, health care professionals and biomedical knowledge that will enhance and extend the quality of life in our communities”. Putting health first honors and serves our Mission.
Still, we must not let this dreadful pandemic win, neither in epidemiological terms nor with respect to achievements hard-won by our graduates that Commencement traditionally celebrates.
The University Commencement Committee and Colleges are wrestling with ramifications of this and are actively exploring alternative modes to celebrate our wonderful graduates and witness as they take their professional oaths. The Committee and Colleges are formulating next steps and will soon have more information as well as invite suggestions as to how the greater University Family – students, families, faculty, and staff can creatively celebrate together, even if not in proximity.
Many thanks for your understanding and support in these trying times even as we look to calmer horizons in the days ahead.
Through all of this, please know we shall endeavor to teach, to heal, together.
Chair of the Board of Trustees
Daniel R. Wilson, MD, PhD