Commencement Ceremonies Cancelled
President Dr. Paul Conn announced the cancellation of commencement ceremonies scheduled for August 1, in an email and video message to graduates on Wednesday. Seven hundred sixty graduates were planning to march and receive degrees in the ceremonies.
"As painful as it is to all to reach this decision, I believe for us to bring such big crowds together on campus is just too risky," said Conn in Wednesday's video. "My first responsibility is to keep you and your families safe and well. We looked at dozens of scenarios, in many different combinations, with masks and distancing in all of them, but we just couldn't find a way to make it work safely."
Conn said the decision to cancel was made following discussions with the officers of Lee's Board of Directors, members of the university Cabinet, and faculty leaders. He explained that the recent surge of COVID cases and hospitalizations in the Cleveland and Chattanooga area forced the change in plans. "UT-Chattanooga had rescheduled its commencement for the same weekend as ours," Conn said, "and after they announced their cancellation last week, I talked with Steve Angle (UTC Chancellor), and he was very helpful in discussing the pros and cons. All of us in higher education are in this crisis together, and it's valuable to consult with one another."
Conn urged Lee's graduating students to "take COVID seriously; this is not just a disease for older people." He observed that some younger people have been considered to be careless about wearing masks, distancing, and other ways of staying virus-free, and cautioned Lee students to "do those things that will keep you and your families and friends safe and healthy."
The Lee president promised the graduates the university would "make it up" to them in any way possible. This included an open invitation to come back as "VIP marchers" in future commencements throughout 2020 and 2021. He also said the Class of 2020 will be invited back to campus for "the mother of all reunion parties," once it can be done safely.
Conn told the graduates a customized box with their regalia, diploma, the printed program for the event, and other items was being shipped to each of them. A Lee tradition is the presentation to every graduate of a Bible signed by Conn, and that will also be included.
He encouraged students to stay optimistic. "I know the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a lot from you, but it cannot take away your memories, your friendships, your experiences, your growth, and everything you have learned in your years here at Lee."
Conn had been scheduled to give the commencement address this year himself, since this would have been the last commencement of his 34-year presidency. He will become the university's Chancellor on August 1, and Dr. Mark Walker will succeed him as president. The university has announced its plans to reopen with a full slate of in-person classes this fall semester, using a "hybrid" format which will include remote options when necessary.
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