May 27, 2020: Cristle Collins Judd, the 11th President of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, has presided over three commencement ceremonies since becoming Sarah Lawrence's President in 2017. Her third was on May 15, 2020, and was like no other. Like many schools, colleges, and universities, the undergraduate and graduate commencements at Sarah Lawrence College were virtual.
Putting together the virtual celebrations required creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, characteristics for which Sarah Lawrence is well known. They also had to put together all of the technology needed to make it all work.
President Judd wanted to make sure the ceremony provided "a sense of community" and was "authentic," and "personal." To accomplish this, Sarah Lawrence used a zoom room for students, faculty, and staff and a live stream for the 1,000 or so family members who watched the ceremony. In the zoom room, students from all over the world, including Australia, China, and Brazil, chatted with each other and faculty, threw up their caps and enjoyed a community feeling. There was also a social media hashtag where students posted photos.
Tonya Lewis Lee '88, lawyer, producer, author, entrepreneur, women's health advocate, and wife of Spike Lee, was the speaker for the undergraduate commencement.
Dr. Barbara Bowman '50, the remarkable 91-year old educator, advocate, researcher, co-founder of the Erikson Institute, and mother of Valerie Jarrett, was the speaker for the graduate commencement.
Two senior class co-presidents also spoke. While the ceremony was not in person, it was great. As President Judd said, "It felt like we got it right,"
Now, President Judd is looking toward the future. Sarah Lawrence College will be open for the coming year, whether virtually, in person, or a combination of the two. They have planning groups working on all the complex issues, including class size, residential living, international students, physical distancing, testing, contract tracing, and more. Judd and the planning groups are consulting with numerous experts, and Judd is in constant touch with her colleagues at other colleges and universities on all the issues.
Sarah Lawrence is actually offering students the opportunity to start classes as early as July 8. Students who might typically travel or have a job before the fall start are unable to do so due to COVID-19. Some might want to start their college education early, and "Sarah Lawrence can provide a bridge through uncertainty," said Judd. There will also be classes for pre-college students and adults over the summer. Additionally, the college is launching Sarah Lawrence Live, a dynamic, personal, individual way of teaching and learning online.
Finally, some of what has been thrust upon Sarah Lawrence during COVID-19 will carry into the future. For example, live streaming has enabled Sarah Lawrence to significantly broaden its presenters and audience for career panels and events. This will continue.
As the co-presidents of the senior class said in their speech, while COVID-19 has caused disruption, the Sarah Lawrence education provides the tools needed to help solve today's problems - - creativity, questioning, and independent thinking.
Photo courtesy Sarah Lawrence College