Breaking from recent tradition of commencement exercises being held on a weekend, Manhattan College’s graduation ceremonies for the class of 2017 will be held on Thursday, May 18 and Friday, May 19 for the graduate and undergraduate programs respectively.
“There were lots of parts to the overall change to the calendar, and this was just a part of it,” Provost William Clyde said.
The most immediate reason behind the change to the graduation schedule was the fact that the Spring 2017 semester began one week earlier than usual, following a truncated winter intersession.
The early start (and therefore finish) to the spring semester was done primarily to facilitate the college’s summer programming—a growing component of the college’s offerings, according to Clyde.
“So there are timings that are standard and competitive and attractive for people taking summer courses—to our own students as well as anybody else’s students,” Clyde said. “So that kind of prompted us to see if we could push the semester to start a week earlier, because then we could start the summer at a beneficial time.”
By ending the spring semester earlier than previously, the college will now be able to offer two separate seven-week long summer sessions for courses.
In years past, there were multiple summer sessions that varied by school (Graduate Education, School of Continuing Professional Studies, Undergraduate) and made registration and scheduling confusing to students.
The two seven-week long sessions now sandwiched around the Fourth of July holiday streamline all of the college’s growing summer offerings and may even be better for students’ education beyond just ease of scheduling.
“The seven weeks comes from a lot of research on what is an optimal shortened semester that actually works for learning,” Clyde said.
Under the previous academic calendar with a delayed start to the spring semester and a weekend graduation ceremony later in May, the two-seven week-long summer sessions proved difficult to fit in before classes begin again for the fall semester.
As an added bonus, the new academic calendar now provides students with more opportunity to utilize the last few weeks of May before the first summer session or potential internships begin.
“We are seeing more interest in May travel now that the semester is ending earlier,” Clyde said. “We are prioritizing the summer over the intersession, is what we’re doing.”
When trying to schedule commencement exercises under the new schedule, college administration also kept in mind the potential length of senior week after finals and avoiding conflicts with the Mother’s Day holiday on May 14.
The second factor contributing to the switch from weekend to weekday was forward thinking to the future graduations of larger class sizes, such as the Class of 2019 that enrolled at 900 students and retained at 89%, according to Clyde.
Space constraints within Draddy Gymnasium, the current location of commencement ceremonies, would likely limit guest tickets to only two per student from such a sizeable graduating class.
“We’re exploring all kinds of different options, but we are aware that if we do it business as usual, it’s going to be two tickets and that’s not great,” Clyde said.
“That’s not what we want, that’s not what they [the students] want. We were aware that moving off a weekend would give us more flexibility there.”
Moving to a weekday ceremony would make it easier for the college to pursue alternative off-site locations to hold graduation.
Off-site graduation ceremony location options were already explored for the previous two graduating classes of Manhattan College but proved especially challenging to book on a weekend.
“A lot of the venues are either not available or some of them [are] cost prohibitive or already have something going on during the weekends,” Clyde said. “The weekends, for other events, not just commencements, are popular times.”
Several area schools utilize off-campus venues for weekday graduation ceremonies. Pace University will be holding their 2017 commencement exercises at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on a Tuesday for their New York City campus, while NYU will use Yankee Stadium on a Wednesday, according to their respective websites.
One nearby “off-site” graduation option the college is exploring is Gaelic Park.
However, even Gaelic Park would be difficult to book for a weekend ceremony, according to Clyde, as it is used by a variety of external organizations such as the Gaelic Athletic Association.
Gaelic Park would be particularly attractive, not only for its proximity to campus but also a much expanded capacity for guest tickets.
For environmental engineering senior Alex Sciacchitano from Virginia, more than the currently available three guest tickets per student would be especially welcome.
“I have some family up here in New York and everyone from home wanted to come up and be in New York and celebrate,” he said. “But due to the limited number of tickets, we will just have to celebrate when I get back. Some family members were disappointed.”
The transition from weekend to weekday ceremonies did not affect his attending family members greatly as they had already planned on spending a larger portion of the week beyond the formal graduation ceremonies to assist in moving out of his off-campus apartment.
Sciacchitano learned about the graduation schedule change from a civil and environmental engineering department-wide email notification.
The shift from weekend to weekday was formally discussed by the Educational Affairs Committee through the Manhattan College Senate last spring and officially announced over the summer on the college website.
Clyde acknowledges, however, that more could have been done to explain the change to the college community and graduating seniors in particular who may have been unaware.
“This was communicated through the normal channels, but I think that we discovered that it wasn’t understood by all people,” Clyde said. “In retrospect I think we could have been more aggressive in communicating that.”