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Commencement conundrum leads to commotion, concerned seniors

The University of Minnesota announces plans for a combined college ceremony with smaller celebrations for students under further review.
Image by David Monterroso
The 2023 commencement ceremony is set to be held as a combined ceremony at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Over the past two weeks, the University of Minnesota sent out several systemwide emails announcing changes in 2023 commencement plans, notably the plan to hold a joint ceremony across colleges.

The deans of most colleges within the University sent emails to students on Oct. 17 announcing the 2023 commencement plans. Information provided varied across colleges, but all emails announced a University-wide commencement ceremony at Huntington Bank Stadium due to renovations at Mariucci Arena, the venue used in past years.

The proposed joint ceremony would not call students to walk across the stage for individual recognition because there would be more than 6,000 undergraduate students and nearly 2,000 masters and doctoral students. This has left some students frustrated and concerned about the commencement size and lack of opportunity for student recognition.

“We’ve all put a lot of time and money into this University, and the last four years have been a struggle for every student,” said Morgan Michalkiewicz, a fourth-year student in the College of Biological Sciences. “Getting recognized in our own ceremony for something that we not only worked for, but paid for, is pretty important.”

Graduating students said University emails sent mixed messages

The emails sent by the colleges varied slightly, with some deans providing more explanation surrounding the inability to walk across the stage at the University-wide ceremony.

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences dean, Brian Buhr, was the only dean to acknowledge the joint ceremony would “not include individual students walking across the stage to have their name announced, receive a diploma or be hooded.”

Brooke Aschenbrener, a fourth-year student in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE), said she was not concerned about the change in venue at first, but once the emails from the other deans were being shared around, the message was confusing.

Aschenbrener said the University seemed to divert blame toward the college deans by making them send the “unfortunate news” to the students in the first set of emails and receive the majority of the backlash.

“I guess what I don’t get is if it’s a really early plan, why would you have the dean send out an email?” Aschenbrener said.

Aschenbrener said it was frustrating because this is not the University’s first time holding a graduation ceremony, and it seems like they are desensitized to the process and students’ feelings.

“I think the reason they wanted to go to one ginormous ceremony is because they didn’t want to put the effort into trying to figure something else out,” Aschenbrener said. “[It] seems like they just took the easy way out.”

University Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson sent a follow-up email on Oct. 21 announcing changes to commencement plans outlined in the original emails students received. The University apologized for the confusion and reiterated the renovations at Mariucci, but stated that alternative name-recognition ceremonies are being considered at departmental levels.

Croson said in an interview the college-wide email announcements intended to inform students about the combined commencement, with plans to announce more specific plans for the departmental ceremonies in the spring, so students knew they were still going to get some form of individual attention.

“I wish we had communicated more clearly in the beginning,” Croson said. “I am optimistic that when early spring rolls around, and we have those plans in place, that students will be more comfortable.”

Ethan Lau, a fourth-year student in the College of Liberal Arts, said he felt the second email is what the first email should have been.

Huntington Bank Stadium was chosen for the combined ceremony

Croson said the University decided to combine graduation ceremonies because Huntington Bank Stadium is too large of a space to hold individual college ceremonies.

Alternative venues such as Northrop Auditorium, Ted Mann Concert Hall and Williams Arena are all either too small or are not laid out correctly to accommodate a graduation, Croson said. The College of Design, due to its small size, still plans to hold its own ceremony in Northrop, according to the email sent by the CDES dean. Croson said the University looked for an off-campus option, but all locations were either already booked or too expensive.

The advantages to the combined commencement ceremony are having a “big name speaker,” possibly giving students 10 tickets each for guests to attend and the opportunity to celebrate with friends from other colleges, according to Croson.

The departmental celebrations will be less “pomp and circumstance,” Croson said.

Croson clarified the University is not trying to cut costs by having a combined ceremony. Between the large commencement and the department ceremonies, the overall cost will be greater than it usually would be, Croson said.

Michalkiewicz and Aschenbrener both said they thought the failure to postpone renovations to Mariucci Arena to accommodate graduation reflected poor planning by the University.

“There’s so many more options,” Aschenbrener said. “They say we have no spaces for graduation ceremonies for each college, but I mean, how many buildings do we have on this campus?”

Students have had mixed reactions to departmental celebrations

Croson said the University currently plans to allow each department to plan its own ceremony so students still have the opportunity to be individually recognized for their degree accomplishments, but ceremony details will likely not be announced until the spring.

Croson said the University knows commencement is important to students, and they are still in the process of working out the details.

“The whole reason we do commencement is for the students,” Croson said. “We are committed to making sure that everybody has an opportunity to celebrate this fantastic achievement with their family and friends.”

Rowan Halm, a student in CSE, said after years of working for a degree despite barriers like online learning and COVID-19 restrictions, the original message about no individual recognition taking place at the ceremony “felt like a slap in the face.”

Halm and Lau said they do not plan on attending the combined graduation ceremony unless students get to walk.

“What is the point of the graduation? Because I know I would never attend a graduation just to hear a speech,” Halm said. “It felt more like it was celebrating the University than the students, which I wasn’t necessarily surprised by, but I was definitely upset over it.”

Some students created an online petition for students to walk at commencement. The petition has more than 8,000 signatures.

Although many students are unhappy with the University-wide commencement plan, Michalkiewicz and Aschenbrener said they support departmental ceremonies if collegiate ones are not possible.

As the University continues planning, the students in the class of 2023 said they want to be able to provide input on how they are recognized for their hard work.

“Going forward, the University needs to acknowledge that they’ve heard the students,” Michalkiewicz said. “I don’t think there’s really a senior that’s on board with the whole process.”

Some students want the University to provide timely answers about commencement, but more importantly, they want the answers to be well-planned.

“I think they need to take time and think about it instead of rushing to the first most obvious option,” Aschenbrener said.

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  • Nah
    Nov 7, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    This school sucks. I feel like I was robbed and of the college experience by going here.