What’s the word on commencement?

The graduation ceremony’s location has been in flux over the last few weeks.

Kelly Holm, Senior Reporter

The week of Feb. 20, an email was sent out to the senior class announcing that May 23’s commencement ceremony would take place in Hutton Arena, instead of on Old Main lawn as previously planned. March 4, however, saw the Commencement Planning Team announce that the ceremony was once again set for outdoors, weather permitting.

“In the more recent past, about [the last] five years, we’ve only been outside, I think, twice,” Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Patti Klein said of the rationale behind the initial decision. “[In 2018], by the time we hit the second commencement ceremony for the graduate students… it was so cold, it was so windy, you couldn’t hardly hear through the mic.”

In another recent year, the heat led to numerous medical situations for both graduates and attendees. Last year’s ceremony was moved indoors due to weather.

Since Klein, as well as members of the President’s staff and the Commencement Planning Team, felt that the 2019 commencement was a success, this year’s ceremony was rescheduled for Hutton.

The venue change was met with discontent among members of the Class of 2020, largely due to concerns about ticketing and accessibility.

In Hutton, each graduate would only receive three tickets for attendees, though this number could be appealed to request more. Any additional guests would have to watch from a screen set up in Anderson Center.

“Coming from a family with 8 children and being a first generation college student having my family there to support me means the world to me,” senior Kayla Kraska wrote on Facebook. “For a school built on tradition, to spring this on the class of 2020 with no warning seems out of character and honestly unfair.”

Before the decision was reversed, a petition started by another first-generation student, senior Jada Steward, garnered over 1,300 signatures calling for a return to outdoor commencement.

“This choice is an issue of accessibility. Hutton is not an adequate space for the 2020 class of graduates… Families will have to sit on wooden bleachers with no back support,” Steward wrote on change.org. “Accessibility tickets are available for family members in Hutton arena. Because of the cramped space, these tickets are also limited… families may have to be split apart within the gym because of designated accessible areas.”

Klein asserted her belief that Hutton was actually a more accessible location than Old Main lawn. Her father, who uses a wheelchair, attended graduation last year and was able to remain with the rest of the family.

“He was up at the railing. Others were with him in folding chairs. The family was right in front of him,” Klein said. “I thought Hutton was great in every aspect. My parents thought it was great.”

However, she and the Commencement Planning Team took to heart concerns from students with larger families about the limited seating.

“I heard comments of ‘I’m a first-generation student and it’s not just me graduating, it’s my whole family,’” Klein said. “I heard a variety of different things. No one story was more important than any other story… we need[ed] to re-look at this decision. And [we did]. And it was changed.”

Senior Amanda Jensen, who encouraged Steward to start the petition, was relieved for the venue reversal.

“I am hopeful the decision will hold as we deserve to continue our tradition on Old Main lawn, have as many guests as we want, and to have reasonable accommodations for accessibility,” she said in an email interview. “However, I am afraid that the school may cancel commencement due to the COVID-19 outbreak or weather will inevitably force us indoors.”

The Commencement Planning Team, in March 4’s email, expressed regret that sufficient student input was not taken when making the initial decision.

“It may be that we eventually decide, in consultation with students, to utilize a single site for commencement— but in so doing we will be sure to engage more voices in the process,” they wrote.