The University has today reversed its decision to confer all degrees in absentia, offering students that were due to graduate in May the opportunity to attend a degree ceremony at a future date. 

This decision, according to Pro-Vice-Chancellor Martin Williams, was taken in response to the “strength of feeling across the University community” expressed by colleges, the Student Union, and an open letter to the University with 2,314 signatories. 

Previously, the Degree Conferrals Office had communicated to students that those due to attend graduation ceremonies on 2nd and 9th May would have their degrees conferred in absentia. Students who graduate in absentia cannot be presented again in a traditional ceremony at the Sheldonian Theatre. 

The open letter that was written in response to the decision requested that students be permitted to attend ceremonies at a later date, if necessary in smaller groups, thereby providing them with a choice. 

The degree ceremony, the open letter states, is “the final opportunity to partake in the rich traditions of the University as one of its student members.” Many “will have quickly left Oxford after their last examination, intending fully to return for this farewell to their tutors and to each other.”

In response, an email sent by Pro-Vice-Chancellor Martin Williams this morning states that affected students will now be presented with the option to have their degrees conferred in absentia or to attend a future ceremony. Students who choose the latter must wait until the rescheduled graduation to obtain their degree certificate. 

Trinity College alumna Vivien Hasan, who wrote the open letter, told Cherwell: “We are delighted that the University has recognised the importance of this once-in-a-lifetime event, and would like to thank the 2000+ supporters who signed the open letter, particularly the 300+ who left written comments. I was so heartened to see support coming from all corners of the student and alumni body, and take this as a real testament to students’ appreciation of their journey at Oxford, and of its traditional forms of celebration.”

The letter began circulating among the Trinity community on Friday 17th April and has since spread to students, family members, and alumni across the University. In the written comments, many signatories highlighted the personal significance of experiencing the ceremony, while others criticised the University’s initial decision and lack of communication. 

Though the University aims to keep the ceremonies’ venues and format as true to tradition as possible, it is understood that postponed events will have to be “modified from their current form”. 

Detailed arrangements for the revised ceremonies are to be organised by a new working group, with more information to follow. Decisions are yet to be made regarding ceremonies from September 2020 onwards. 

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