The Forgotten Class of 2014

 

Step one: shine a glimmer of hope that the President of the United States has been invited to the campus to be the commencement speaker to mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit  for UCI campus dedication ceremony. Step two: let the rumors run. Step three: cancel the original dates of graduation, June 15 and 16. But what to do with all of 8,000 students graduating?

As the administration marked off their checklist for the year-end commencement events, it forgot about the very people that make the university run, the very reason a commencement even occurs: the students.

But word got out. Within a week or so, students caught on that there was a plan to do away with their individual commencement ceremonies, half of the graduating class was in an uproar, creating protest groups on Facebook and calling their parents with disappointing news: “They forgot about us again.” We say half because news of the changes in graduation plans was almost entirely spread by word of mouth.

Students did not receive emails from the administration about the changes. Some students happened to stumble upon the school’s commencement website and were surprised to see the dates changed and their right to walk at graduation completely waived, without their consent. Fourth-year economics major, Ruchi Bal, solidified the protest efforts by pulling together a group of students to start a Change.org petition outlining four demands regarding the changes of commencement.

The commencement committee announced decisions regarding the commemoration event flying by the seat of its pants. The graduation class would not stand by and let the administration trick us into believing the 50th anniversary celebration, with the chance of President Obama speaking, had anything to do with the students.

The student body was not considered: it didn’t matter that those who will be the first of their family to graduate from college would not be given the chance to walk. It didn’t matter that graduation would be held in as impersonal a location as Angel Stadium with which we have no affiliation – except it did matter to the students, who were quick to jump on every bit of commencement news, no matter how obscure.

After half a week of complaints raining down on the commencement committee, the administration (unsurprisingly) backpedaled. Ok, they said, we will give you your walking ceremonies, but only after you come to listen to our 50th anniversary commemoration. We knew from the start that arranging this huge ceremony with only the possibility of Obama speaking presented a huge gamble.

It became clearer still when we learned that they would give us back our individual graduations, but only crammed on after the commemoration event. The committee suggested that after the chaos of every family getting inside Angel Stadium and letting out like a flood hours later, families would drive all over Anaheim to school auditoriums and local churches to individual school graduation ceremonies. No “Pomp and Circumstance” with banners and unity; just rushed ceremonies in rented out spaces around Anaheim. Parents and students wouldn’t have any of it. Parents called the commencement committee to share their grievances about all the graduations being at the same time all over town, for example. Parents of students graduating from different schools at the university would not be able to attend both their children’s ceremonies. All the committee members could say was, “We’re sorry.” They couldn’t offer any tangible solution.

Finally, a little over a week since the secret of a consolidated graduation let out, protesting voices rang loud enough for the committee to give the soon-to-be graduates back what they deserved from the start. We were back at square one.

But the big deal here is that, as usual, everything was clandestine. The administration attempted to pull the wool over our eyes, to take an earned ceremony and return some self-congratulatory back-slapping. It doesn’t matter that the President of the United States was supposed to come (and let’s ignore the fact that, even as you’re reading this, Obama isn’t confirmed), it wouldn’t matter if the Pope or Brad Pitt or Dalai Lama was requested to attend.  A university exists to instruct, and after years of instruction and contribution, after sincere effort and honest-to-god hard work, students and their families have more than earned a little recognition – not a celebrity cameo.

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