For worldwide delivery: 3,900 Yale diplomas

With the members of the Class of 2020 at home due to COVID-19, it’s up to Registrar Emily Shandley and her team to make sure they get their diplomas by mail.
An original diploma from the Yale School of Medicine, awarded to Samuel Allen Wilson in 1852
An original diploma from the Yale School of Medicine, awarded to Samuel Allen Wilson in 1852 (Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale Manuscripts & Archives)

In an online celebration May 18, President Peter Salovey conferred Yale degrees on thousands of 2020 graduates, admitting them to the attendant “rights and responsibilities.”

Now it’s up to Emily Shandley to make sure Yale’s newest alumni get a record of their achievement — their diplomas.

Since May 20, Shandley, who is the university registrar, and a cast of colleagues have been hard at work in a downtown New Haven office suite, where they’ve set up a carefully choreographed, safety-conscious assembly operation.

Their goal is to package and ship the diplomas — nearly 3,900 of them — by June 5.

The first batch, for School of Architecture graduates, went out May 21. Since then, Yale Printing and Publishing Services (YPPS) vans have whisked away thousands of packages bound for destinations as near as the neighborhoods of New Haven and as far as Queensland, Australia.

This is one of the most gratifying things we can do right now,” said Shandley, whose team in January assumed responsibility for diploma logistics from the university secretary’s office, a planned change unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a typical year, the vast majority of new Yale graduates receive their diplomas in person at one of various campus ceremonies, usually at a residential college or graduate or professional school. For various reasons, some graduates pick up their diplomas later or request to receive them by mail. Law school graduates customarily receive their diplomas by post because of the school’s unique academic calendar, which ends more than a week after commencement.

This year was different,” said Barbara Botti, the diploma czar in the secretary’s office, who has been helping the registrar’s team learn the ropes and will join it soon.

Heather Calabrese, Rebecca Linsky, and Kory Riddle prepare diplomas for mailing
Heather Calabrese, director of University Events, Rebecca Linsky, student affairs assistant for the School of Nursing, and Kory Riddle, associate university registrar, are busy preparing diplomas for the Graduate School and for the School of Nursing.

Due to the pandemic, Yale, like most universities, did not hold traditional commencement events on campus in May. Festivities and rites unfurled on a custom-designed website, Yale2020, which served as center stage for a week of online celebrations, including the May 18 degree conferral. An on-campus celebration for Yale 2020 graduates will take place in the future.

That means there are hard-won 2020 diplomas to distribute now.

We take this very seriously,” said Shandley, whose chief aides in the task include associate university registrar Kory Riddle, Botti, and Heather Calabrese of the secretary’s office.

Carmen Cusmano and Stephen Taylor of YPPS have overseen the service’s essential contribution — production of the diplomas and related documents at YPPS’s Science Park plant.

At high noon on May 20, Shandley and Riddle met at 246 Church St., the university registrar’s headquarters, to begin preparing packages for all students who specified a diploma delivery address. Since then, in a frequently sanitized third-floor conference room, with the windows open toward Wall Street and a fan whirring, a series of helpers wearing masks and gloves have worked in three- or four-person shifts to prepare the packages. Into every box goes a Yale-blue folder with four documents — the student’s 11x14-inch diploma; a letter from President Salovey and Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kim Goff-Crews; a certificate of graduation; and an English translation of the diploma’s Latin inscription.

The team works steadily, managing a rate of about 100 packages per hour — but not hastily and not silently.

We’ve been reading them out to each other,” Shandley said of the names on the diplomas.

The diploma may be the most treasured item in the packet, but the others offer extra utility. The certificate is sometimes required by prospective employers and graduate programs as proof of graduation; the translation of the 75-word core Latin text can help meet criteria for travel visas or professional licenses.

That’s the most requested document,” Botti said of the translation.

In a typical year, Yale receives about 500 requests for the translations after commencement, she said, and about 150 for the certificate. To keep things simple in a complicated year, the team is sending the certificate and translation to everyone.

Shannan Foley, Sierra Bowman, and Lisa Huck prepare Div School and SOM diplomas
Shannan Foley, register for the School of Management, Sierra Bowman, assistant registrar for the School of Management, and (background) Lisa Huck, director of academic services and registrar for the School of Divinity are running two distinct diploma preparation lines, SOM in foreground and Divinity in the background.

The last big batch of diplomas, for graduates of Yale College — annually the largest single group of graduates, numbering 1,347 this year — is expected to roll away from 246 Church St. on Friday. YPPS will deliver the diplomas to the U.S. Postal Service for domestic delivery. It will use FedEx — founded by Fred Smith, B.A. ’66 — for international deliveries.

Botti, who keeps an eight-sheet Excel document detailing every step in the diploma preparation and distribution process, said some aspects have been simpler this year. But she’s looking forward to resuming the normal process, which offers her a special pleasure — interacting with the students who each year make their way to her office after commencement to pick up diplomas they hadn’t yet received.

That was always a fun part of my job — that I got to hand it to them and congratulate them,” she said.

All being well, she’ll have the chance again in 2021.

Students who have not yet provided a mailing address for diploma delivery may submit it through the Student Information System or write to

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