Hampshire College postpones 50th anniversary events

  • Hamsphire College President Edward Wingenbach GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2020 12:45:42 PM

AMHERST — Hampshire College’s 50th anniversary gathering, set to be its “largest celebration ever,” has been pushed back a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The festivities, originally scheduled for this October, were to include a commencement ceremony for the class of 2020, which celebrated graduation virtually in May due to the pandemic. The 50th anniversary activities will now take place Oct. 15-17, 2021, and the class of 2020 will instead be invited to celebrate their graduation at the class of 2021’s ceremony next May.

The decision to push back the 5oth anniversary celebration was guided by public health concerns, according to Jennifer Chrisler, the college’s chief advancement officer.

“As we on campus prepare for the return of our students and the arrival of new students, we were thinking about the best way to keep both the on-campus community and our community safe,” Chrisler said. “That introduction of a huge number of people into campus and into Amherst in fall 2020 was probably better pushed off for another year to keep everyone safe and to keep the surrounding community safe.”

Additionally, college officials suspected that some people would not be comfortable traveling back to campus for the anniversary, Chrisler said.

In the past, similar Hampshire events have drawn as many as 1,500 to 2,000 people from the college community, according to Chrisler.

The 50th anniversary festivities were set to include activities such as lectures, social gatherings and showings of on-campus facilities. While these in-person events will not happen, the college plans to roll out a series of virtual events over the course of the year to commemorate the college’s 50-year milestone. 

While people will not return to Hampshire for the anniversary specifically, the campus will see a return of some community members for the academic year. Hampshire has invited all of its students to return to campus for the upcoming academic year, expecting around 550 will take up the offer, with social distancing measures in place. 

The college reaching its 50th anniversary for a time looked precarious — in January 2019, then-president Miriam “Mim” Nelson announced that Hampshire was seeking a merger amid financial hardships, and college officials elected not to admit a full incoming class for the 2019-2020 academic year. After widespread criticism from the Hampshire College community, Nelson and numerous board of trustees members resigned, and the college’s new leadership set its sights on remaining independent. 

Hampshire is still not free of financial challenges — the college must adapt to a pandemic-induced budget hit estimated at $1.2 million in April, according to current Hampshire president Ed Wingenbach, and the college will likely need to accelerate some aspects of its 5-year plan to return to financial stability and a full enrollment, which includes a $60 million fundraising goal. But despite Hampshire’s preexisting challenges and the financial strain that COVID-19 places on higher education in general, Wingenbach has said he is confident in the college's survival

Likewise, Chrisler believe attendees of the anniversary celebration will “look forward to the opportunity of being safely together at the right point in time to celebrate and really look forward to the next 50 years and beyond.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.
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