UF Administration: Give UF Graduates the Commencement Ceremony They Earned
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On May 5, 2018, at a routine UF graduation ceremony that was supposed to celebrate the accomplishments of our university’s students, multiple graduates were physically intimidated and grabbed by UF officials as they walked across the Stephen C. O’Connell Center’s stage. Families, friends, and students watched in horror as university officials and our University President, sitting only steps away, did nothing in the moment to correct the situation. In the days that followed, the incident garnered national attention and the University of Florida apologized for the unfortunate event vowing to improve future commencement ceremonies for every Gator.
Four months later, the solution chosen by UF administration can be described as nothing short of disappointing. UF has decided to hold separate ceremonies for Gator Graduates in the Fall. A first ceremony with all graduates, from every college, will take place in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during which students WILL NOT be individually recognized. A second, college-specific “graduation” ceremony will take place sometime later that weekend at various locations across campus where students will finally hear their names called. Unfortunately, this solution presents multiple problems that cannot help but make one wonder how much thinking went into the development of this solution and how much student input was actually sought out.
Obvious problems created by this solution include the following:
1) This change will add unnecessary financial hardships for families traveling to see their student graduate. Some families will be forced to adjust airfare or pay for an extra night at a hotel simply to hear their graduate’s name called at any ceremony as some college-specific “graduations” will be held on different days than the Ben Hill Griffin “all-colleges” commencement. Why are we looking to make this momentous occasion more expensive and complicated for our Gator families by instituting a multiple-day graduation process?
2) Some of these college-specific “graduation” ceremonies will take place at the same time, on the same day, at different locations on campus. This means that if a parent has two students in two different colleges, they may be forced to not hear the name of one of their students being called when they are individually recognized. Additionally, spouses may be separated at different ceremonies depending on what college they graduate from and what degree they have earned. The following college-specific "graduation" ceremonies present time conflicts and take place in different locations across campus:
- College of Agricultural and Life Sciences AND Colleges of Public Health and Health Professions, Nursing, and Pharmacy (Friday, Dec. 14, 7:30-9pm)
- College of Arts AND College of Education AND College of Health and Human Performance AND College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Saturday Dec. 15, 1-4pm)
- College of Design, Construction, and Planning AND College of Engineering AND College of Journalism and Communications (Saturday Dec. 15, 7-9pm)
3) The "university-wide" commencement ceremony, to take place in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 15, 9am-11am (for Fall Graduations) and Saturday, May. 4, 8:30am-11am (for Spring Graduations), both present significant weather problems. First, there is no guarantee that inclement weather will not result in the cancellation of either of these ceremonies. One should not have their last memory at UF be one of a cancelled graduation, a problem which simply could be avoided if ALL commencement ceremonies continued to be held indoors. Second, December mornings in Gainesville are significantly cool and the average temperature for the first week of May in Gainesville is around 90 degrees. The extreme weather conditions presented by both these outdoor ceremonies would make it impossible for more elderly family members or individuals with sensitive skin conditions to attend the commencement ceremony of their loved ones.
4) The dream students have had of themselves walking across the stage at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center while their name is being called will not be made a reality. This powerful moment serves as a reward for years of hard work, hundreds of hours spent in classes and studying, and thousands of dollars in tuition paid. It should not be taken away from students simply because of the overly aggressive actions of ONE UF official and the complacency of ALL university administration on stage last year.
5) Students were not given a voice in the revamped structure of THEIR OWN commencement ceremonies. Not even a survey or poll of students was conducted to understand the opinions and desires of students for future graduation ceremonies. As a result, this current solution is widely opposed and can any one of us say we’re actually surprised?
6) Something as special as a graduation ceremony in which you are individually recognized for all your hard work, should not take place inside an old gym or in the same space used for something as casual as Gator Nights.
7) Most importantly, this current solution claims that last year’s disgraceful incident was caused by the length of the graduation ceremony and the number of graduates having to cross the stage throughout the course of it. This is simply not true. UF’s commencement website states that the main reason two separate commencement ceremonies are taking place is because “the growth of the university means that it is no longer feasible to have a university wide commencement in which each student is individually recognized. In May, we held 10 ceremonies for 7,000 graduates over four days, resulting in the ceremonies being rushed and falling short of the quality of a top-10 public university.” Let’s get something straight: time constraints and an increasing student population did not cause last year’s turmoil. Graduations are commonly longer ceremonies, especially at the university-level, and a desire to save 30 minutes sitting to recognize the accomplishments of other students is no reason to do away with the existing ceremony structure altogether. In reality, it was the UF staff, university administration, and the University President that acted in a manner inconsistent with what this university stands for. UF officials were not properly trained on how to treat graduates of all backgrounds with respect, and as a result, they inappropriately handled graduates celebrating their hard-earned accomplishment. How about we fix this pressing issue regarding basic human decency and respect for one another, rather than completely reinventing the wheel when it comes to our future graduation ceremonies? An error in judgment on the part of UF officials should not result in a less than ideal solution that compromises the graduation experience of current and future Gator graduates.
It cannot be disputed that a huge mistake was made on the part of the University of Florida at last May’s commencement ceremony. As a university we should strive to set an example for our students that mistakes are learning opportunities we can grow and improve from. We should use the upcoming fall commencement ceremonies to show that UF in fact can get this right. That we as a university can strike a balance between being timely and respecting the right to celebrate of every graduating student regardless of their race, age, major, college, or Greek affiliation. Make no mistake, this solution was not designed to attempt to remedy the problems of last year but rather run away from them.
As a result, I invite you to challenge the University of Florida to return the upcoming fall commencement ceremonies to the structure that previously existed, because UF students should be given the graduation ceremony they deserve. A graduation ceremony that allows us all to say with certainty that it’s great to GRADUATE as a Florida Gator.
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