UC Irvine students and families learned last week that this year’s commencement has been consolidated into a singular affair on Saturday, June 14 to accommodate for President Barack Obama’s potential visit and keynote address. This change in format marks a substantial difference from years past, where individual ceremonies were held for each school at UC Irvine.
Intended to mark the beginning of UCI’s 50th anniversary celebrations, President Obama’s potential speech would mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit during the site dedication ceremony preceding the campus’s construction.
The New University previously reported Obama’s potential keynote as a separate ceremony for spring 2014 graduates with up to two of their guests. Since then, administrators have looked into renting the 45,050-seat Angel Stadium in order to accommodate an estimated 8,000 students slated to graduate, as well as up to five of their guests.
Last year, Obama gave a handful of commencement speeches at universities including Ohio State University and Morehouse College. Despite having the possibility of witnessing firsthand the President of the United States deliver a keynote address, students have already expressed contention by saying that there have been too many sudden changes and a lack of transparency from administrators.
Last Friday night, a Change.org petition started by a group of students and represented by fourth-year economics major Ruchi Bal expressed four demands regarding the changes to commencement. The petition’s foremost concern stems from worries that graduating students will not be able to walk as a part of the conglomerate ceremony.
“As students who pay tuition we should be allowed to express our individuality and it’s not fair [the administration] is taking away from us something that every graduate holds so dear to them,” Bal said.
Bal pointed to the large number of first generation students whose families will not have the opportunity to witness their students walk during graduation, a moment that for many represents the culmination of their undergraduate, graduate and doctoral educations. According to Bal, families, some coming from abroad, have already made hotel and flight arrangements with the information and dates they received at the recent Grad Expo.
The petition and Facebook event entitled “UCI 2014 Commencement Change Protest,” skyrocketed on Friday evening, accumulating about 1,200 signatures at the time this article was written.
In order to address some of the concerns that students had with not being able to walk in the ceremony, commencement organizers added to the official commencement website on Friday night:
“Immediately following the main ceremony, Deans are hosting graduates, their family and guests to gather and be recognized with school faculty and other graduates from their schools. These events will be at or in the immediate area of Angel Stadium. Specific details regarding these separate school events will be provided in March.”
While this new paragraph may seem as though it was added in response to student outcry, the commencement committee planned to have these individual ceremonies all along, according to Edgar Dormitorio, Chief of Staff of Student Affairs and one of the many commencement organizers.
It will be up to the individual school to determine what each of the specific ceremonies will entail. The commencement committee is still in the process of communicating with all of the deans — hence the reason why details regarding walking and other logistics have not yet been released. Organizers hope to have details confirmed and announced in March.
The commencement committee expressed that they have been announcing decisions regarding commencement as they are happening. The committee did not go visit Angels Stadium until Feb. 18, so this has been a very fast-paced process and they are updating students as quickly as they can. Other universities are typically given a year or more to plan for this type of event — this committee only has a few months. They are working to sort out the details of the individual ceremonies and will inform students as soon as concrete decisions are made.
Although the decision has been made to have individual ceremonies surrounding Angel Stadium, some students still wish to return to the original format at the Bren, in addition to the special ceremony, and hope the petition can reconcile that.
Bal said that students “look forward to having Obama as a potential speaker but it’s not fair, in an attempt to celebrate the school’s anniversary, to take away our walking as well.”
Updates regarding Commencement 2014 will be reported as soon as more developments occur — please stay up to date with the most recent story at newuniversity.org.
Filed Under: News