by PETE JANNY & ANNA WOODS, Asst. Sports Editor & Staff Writer
Just recently, the school announced plans to hold the 178th Undergraduate Commencement for the Class of 2019 at Draddy Gymnasium. In years past, this news would not come as a surprise considering the school’s extensive history of holding commencement on campus. However, after last year’s commencement drama made for one of the more contentious debates on campus all year, the announcement of the location for this year’s commencement was highly anticipated.
Commencement has always been on campus because of its convenience and general suitability for such an important event. Last year, preparations for the 2019 commencement were met with pushback when students voiced concerned with the school’s ability to accommodate the largest graduating class in the college’s history.
After word spread last fall about the school’s decision to keep commencement on campus, students decided to make their disappointment known by bombarding the commencement committee with emails, hand-written messages and a petition asking for change. This opposition largely stemmed from a purported lack of communication between the school and students prior to the announcement along with the accompanying bombshell that only two tickets would be granted per student.
Students secured an important concession when the commencement committee decided to raise the ticket allowance to four from the original amount of two, despite the event still being held in Draddy.
Other concerns over the suitability of Draddy to host commencement led to the implementation of extra seating and a temporary air conditioning unit in time for the event.
Junior Nadia Itani, current Vice President of Academic Affairs, was in attendance at commencement last May and despite all the criticism during the months leading up to the big day, Itani thought the event was a success.
However, one thing that did catch Itani off guard was the number of open seats..
“There were still empty seats in Draddy and there was no one in the viewing area,” Itani said regarding the moderate turnout at commencement. “That kind of threw everything because if Draddy was packed, then there would be a better chance of moving commencement off campus.”
Looking forward to this coming commencement, Itani expects the school to go above and beyond to make sure Draddy will meet the needs of all attendees.
“The overall aesthetics of commencement are going to be streamlined because the school still knows there are a lot of people who don’t want to be graduating in Draddy,” Itani said regarding the expectations for commencement.
Gaelic Park and Van Cortlandt Park were considered as options, however, the stringent security measures that such scenarios would’ve warranted ultimately rendered those two settings non-viable. More realistic alternatives to Draddy included Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall; two of the more prominent and luxurious venues in New York City. The school never seriously entertained these suggested scenarios mainly because of the lofty costs such a commitment would’ve required.
Provost William Clyde and President Brennan O’Donnell hold the most influence for a decision of this magnitude and although they couldn’t find a feasible alternative, Clyde believes the commencement committee is heading in the right direction in terms of familiarizing themselves with the challenges of a process like this.
“Ultimately it’s the president and the cabinet but there’s also a lot of input from a variety of folks and certainly a lot of interaction with student government and student leaders,” Clyde said. “We agreed to do a lot of research to explore other possibilities and options, which we’ve always done, but this time we did it in more detail and more rigorously and went back to things we’ve done before and did them again.”
With there being more harmony this year between students and the commencement committee compared to last, Itani feels the class of 2020 may possibly be okay with the decision to keep it on campus as this graduating class is markedly smaller than the class of 2019.
“There was no real expectation of getting it off campus especially last year so I haven’t heard any real student complaints,” Itani said.
The 178th Undergraduate Commencement will take place on Friday, May 15th at Draddy Gymnasium. Based on responses from a survey given last spring to members of the Class of 2020, the primary concern students have with respect to commencement is the ticket allowance. Keeping with last year’s parameters, each graduating student will be given four tickets for the occasion to ensure that every student is well-represented.
“We did a survey last spring of the graduates of the Class of 2020 about their preferences regarding what was most important to them and by far the most important thing was the number of tickets,” Clyde said.
With the class sizes all under control right now, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency in regards to taking commencement off-campus. Even so, that reality hasn’t deterred Itani from brainstorming with Provost Clyde and President O’Donnell about long-term plans for commencement, especially in the event of a future surge in enrollment.
“Realistically it probably will be on campus for the next few years. However I have been speaking with [Provost Clyde and President O’Donnell] and making it clear that I have no real hopes for this year and next year but really just for setting something up down the road especially if our classes do get bigger,” Itani said.
“Our goal is to make this a great final occasion for students. We work really hard to do that and we want to do that. Obviously different people have different things that would be valuable to them to make that true. You can’t necessarily get everybody’s wishlist but we try to make it a great experience because this is for many people the last thing they’re doing here…and you want it to be a joyful experience,” Clyde added.