As members of the Class of 2021 enter their final days at Tufts, now is an appropriate time to reflect on what its members have accomplished in their time here. Finishing college in circumstances that no one could have even imagined four years ago, Tufts’ graduating seniors have shown respectable resilience in the face of a challenging year. But beyond just doing the bare minimum, this is a class whose members have looked out for others in addition to themselves. In the year since this pandemic first shook the world, members of our student body — led by graduating seniors — have turned outward rather than inward, continuing our community’s commitment to social justice and its tradition of activism. And compared to many of Tufts’ peers, our community has avoided the worst COVID-19 outcomes, owing largely to the behavior of students, including the graduating seniors who have sacrificed traditions enjoyed by previous generations of Tufts graduates.
For their resilience, Tufts’ graduating seniors deserve praise from the entire community, the university administration included. And fortunately, some of the administration’s Commencement decisions do reflect this spirit. Organizing smaller, department-specific events even when a university-wide Commencement isn’t possible is a reasonable compromise that creates opportunities to celebrate while also respecting public health. Additionally, the university made an excellent decision choosing Bryan Stevenson as Commencement speaker, such that the official Commencement ceremony will be a memorable one even if students are not there to celebrate in person.
Regardless, the university still has a long way to go in offering graduating seniors the end-of-year experience they deserve. While some of Tufts’ Commencement decisions — not holding a full in-person ceremony, for instance — have obvious public health rationales, the university’s decision to end surveillance testing before Commencement takes place does not. In a survey of graduating seniors conducted by TCU Senate leadership, 95% of respondents said that they planned to remain in the Medford/Somerville area for Senior Week. Rather than pretend that these students are gone just because there are no official in-person events, the university should take an approach to public health that recognizes this reality and extend surveillance testing for this additional week.
The university’s decision not to extend surveillance testing to Senior Week arrived in tandem with another unfortunate decision for the Class of 2021: the announcement that graduating seniors living on campus would be forced to move out before the beginning of Senior Week. This does not mean that they will all leave the local area for Senior Week — the 95% of survey respondents who planned to stay almost certainly included some who currently live on campus — but it does mean that those who live on campus will have to find other accommodations, either through crashing with friends or paying for lodging in a hotel. The former option could pose a public health risk, as it may force graduating seniors into close contact with a larger number of people, while the latter option poses a financial burden, something that would cause extra difficulty for the disproportionate number of financial aid recipients living in on-campus housing. It is too late for Tufts to completely rectify this situation, given that many graduating seniors living on campus may have already committed to new accommodations for Senior Week; however, the university should still be generous in making accommodations for graduating seniors who live on campus by permitting graduating seniors who currently live on campus and might not have been able to make alternate plans to stay in the area to remain in their residences through Senior Week.
A last minute change to the university’s testing or housing policies might seem unusual, but small courtesies like these are owed to the Class of 2021 given the exceptional circumstances in which they are graduating. The final third of their college experience was a mere shell of what they might have hoped for when they matriculated, and now for the sake of public health they cannot have a shared in-person ceremony as they part ways. This is an unfortunate situation, and all members of the Tufts community — the administration included — should do what they can to make this period a happier one for our seniors.
Whether or not the university administration offers graduating seniors the best experience it is capable of offering, these soon-to-be graduates deserve the applause of the entire Tufts community. Through its resilience, its consciousness toward public health and its continued activism, the Class of 2021 has been a model for the rest of our community on the Hill. Now, as graduating seniors move on to new phases of their lives, it is time for the rest of that community to wish the Class of 2021 the best of luck, while also learning from the leadership its members have offered in their time here.