Jenn Smith | Recess: MCLA sends off grads into an uncertain future

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President James F. Birge confers the Class of 2020 on Saturday during a virtual send-off. A formal ceremony will take place in person at a later date.

"I wish it were the case that we were together today. Commencement is one of the most important academic ceremonies that we have," Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President James F. Birge told the Class of 2020 during a virtual Senior Send-off video released on Saturday morning.

But instead, students were gathered at home with their families, or on their own, taking in the 8 1/2-minute recording.

The video began with Birge giving a Mister Rogers-like monologue, as he stood in his office and began putting on pieces of commencement regalia that he normally would for the occasion, while addressing the students about being graduates.

"The most important part is that you know that I'm proud of you, your faculty are proud of you for all the accomplishments that you've made. The thing to know is that earning a college degree is never easy but it's especially difficult this year because of the virus that you all have had to deal with," he said.

He then issued a statement of confirmation for all certificate of advanced graduate study, master of education, master of business administration, bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree candidates, as their names began scrolling on a side of the screen in alphabetical order by last name. MCLA Alumni Association President Dennis Ducharme ('82), also issued his recorded well-wishes.

Birge called it a "cheap substitution of how we should have celebrated you today" but assured graduates that the day "we will gather to rightfully honor you for your accomplishment" will come.

"Change is always with us ... sometimes that means we have to embrace it whether or not we like it," Birge said in his remarks. "It's also the case that throughout your lives you will face challenges and, in fact, as much as you may not like those challenges, they will strengthen you. And finally I want you to know you are the best hope we all have to improve our world so go out and do just that."

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When exactly students can go out or gather in settings of greater than 10 people and closer than 6 feet away is still unclear. Even as Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration divulged more details about the state's much anticipated four-phase reopening plan on Monday, the plan did not specify many details for schools, which will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Plans for summer learning programs and the 2020-2021 school year "will be shared with the public in weeks to come."

Higher education institutions will have to craft their own campus reopening plans for each phase, with safety and health monitoring protocols needing to be detailed across all aspects of campus life, from classrooms to housing, dining halls to gyms and other facilities and services.

While day care and early childhood education centers will remain closed through June 29, designated emergency child care centers do have some capacity and will remain open.

Also lacking in the Baker administration's response was guidance on how schools and other youth- and family-serving organizations should be budgeting for reopening and any additional expenses associated with remote learning plans and safety and sanitizing protocols.

Talk education anytime via jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter or 413-629-4517.