Commencement ceremonies return to campus among concern

Kirstin Cook, Editor-in-Chief

With the news that the 2013 commencement ceremony would be moving from the Mohegan Sun Arena to the Marts Center, some students reacted with primary skepticism.

“When I first heard about it, I was ready to call in and book the Arena myself,” John Sweeney, a senior accounting and business management major, said.

But with the release of frequently asked questions from Student Affairs on the graduation venue change, many of Sweeney’s concerns were cleared up.

“Once I heard the facts, I really agreed with it.”

Several students had concerns and questions on possible issues with relocating the ceremony to campus relating to things like ticket availability, venue size and parking. Paul Adams, vice president of Student Affairs, said these questions are expected.

“Before we re-establish the gym as a desirable venue, we’re going to have to answer those questions and I understand that,” Adams said.

However, representatives from Student Affairs, which coordinates graduation every year, insist the venue change is the best option to deal with some of the problems that had evolved with the ceremony.

“I think students will be pleasantly surprised,” Mark Allen, dean of Student Affairs, said.

Allen said he had received feedback from past attendees on several problems with holding the event at the Arena. One issue was the length of the ceremony, which was becoming increasingly longer as the number of graduate students increased. The ceremony exceeded three hours last year.

Often times, students would leave after they received their diplomas rather than wait for the remainder of the event, creating a poor atmosphere for the students at the end of the schedule of receiving their degrees.

“You get to the bachelor’s degrees and half the place would be empty,” Adams said. “It was disappointing to say the least.”

Adams said they considered other options, such as handing out the degrees at the very end of the ceremony to get people to stay, but he said that would simply make people angry.

Student Affairs had also received feedback that the event was more designed toward undergraduate students. Graduate students did not feel as included in the awards, some of which were specific to undergraduates, and the speeches, which often targeted the undergraduate experience, leading Student Affairs to decide on splitting up the two ceremonies.

This year, the graduate and undergraduate students will be honored with two separate ceremonies, with the graduate ceremony taking place first in the morning of May 18, 2013. The goal is to transform the ceremonies into more manageable, specific events.

“What this is going to do is allow us to shorten the ceremony for everybody,” Adams said.

This return to campus will allow the commencement ceremony to include some of the historic events that the ceremony used to include when it was held on campus around six years ago.

“We can revisit a lot of the traditions that used to be part of the ceremony when we did graduate on campus,” Adams said.

Adams said he is hoping to continue traditional events like parade, which led students along South Franklin and South streets before the ceremony, and post-commencement celebrations.

Adams said the past protocol of holding commencement on campus was regarded as successful.

“People who’ve been here long enough to remember commencement on campus remember it fondly,” Adams said.

Allen noted at the time the ceremony was first moved to the Arena, there was a negative immediate response from students similar to the one he’s noticed this year.

“At that time we were receiving a fair amount of negative feedback, that ‘how can you take this very personal type of experience, this culminating experience, and move it off site or externally,” Allen said.

However, he said this student discontent comes with the territory of change.

“I think sometimes, with any change, there’s going to be that uncertainty,” Allen said.

One issue that students vocalized uncertainty with was the ticket distribution. Allen said students will be provided at least 10 tickets for guests, adding that a small poll conducted by Student Affairs found most students wanting four to six tickets. For those who need more, the remaining tickets will be returned to a pool to redistribute, but there will not be a charge applied.

He said the Marts Center, which has a capacity of 3,500, will be suitable for this audience.

Besides the size, Allen said a difference between the Marts Center and the Arena is the intimacy of the venue. He said families will be seated much closer to graduating students at the Marts.

He also said the schedule was very specific at Arena, which didn’t allow attendees to linger and say goodbye.

With the ceremony at Marts, there will be a post-commencement reception planned.

The difference in venue fees, some $20,000 that paid for the rental and staff at Arena, will be redirected to pay for the reception and investment in making the Marts more suitable in atmosphere.

While Adams noted that both venues are athletic in nature, he thinks the Marts Center is a more appealing option because of its symbolism and the idea of returning students to the place where they had their first major event during orientation.

“I think the idea that we’re able to bring everyone together after the ceremony on the campus where they spent hopefully these meaningful years is just an nice closure rather than a parking lot,” Adams said.