Students react to commencement changes

A major change planned for the university’s annual commencement is designed to shorten the duration of the ceremony, which last year ran over three hours long.

But the recent announcement that commencement will be split up into two waves of school-based ceremonies after a one-hour long main procession and speaking program has prompted a petition to go back to the original format.

Kayla Lombardi, a senior psychology major graduating in May, created a petition to bring back the united commencement ceremony


that had gathered almost 300 signatures as of Wednesday, Feb. 26.


The petition states: “[W]e are heartbroken that we will not get to see each other walk across the stage. For the past four years, we have worked hard and supported each other side by side and yet, on this special day, we cannot celebrate together.”

“I feel like [with] this school being kind of smaller, there is an emphasis of togetherness,” Lombardi said in an interview with The Hawks’ Herald. “I think the way they’re planning to do commencement defeats the purpose of that.”

She also pointed out there are a lot of components to the change she didn’t fully understand. She knows where the ceremony is, but she is unsure how the stages for each location will be set up.

University President Ioannis Miaoulis went to the Student Senate meeting on Feb. 24 to assuage concerns about the change. During the meeting, he said the changes were made to give students a “grand goodbye.” 

Melanie Stone, assistant director of university commencement and special events, offered some answers during an interview with The Hawks’ Herald, which Miaoulis also attended. She explained she has been working with Gordon Wood, who supervises the stage crew. 

Each tent will have a stage and ramps. His staff will not be able to be in all these places at once, therefore additional outside staffing will be hired at an extra cost to the university. 

Along with four tents, food will be offered at the commencement. As an incentive, students who fill out the senior survey will get three free food tickets. Additional tickets will be sold for $9 each. Miaoulis said $30,000 is budgeted for food.

Stone said the cost was a little bit higher than usual, though the true difference will be determined once the university calculates the costs of having fire safety and emergency staff available. 

There was also concern about twins graduating in different schools and how parents would choose which ceremony to attend. Miaoulis explained they moved two commencements around so parents can go to both ceremonies. 

He admitted it was something they hadn’t thought about, even though the senior class has six pairs of twins.

“It could be a problem in future years, but we will try to move things around,” Miaoulis said. 

Lombardi also mentioned her concern for her older grandparents who are coming and for people with family members flying in from other states.


“I feel like we’re the test dummies, and no one really knows how it’s going to play out,” Lombardi said. 

Stone said she’s working with Public Safety to set up pickup and drop-off locations for guests who are handicapped or can’t walk far distances. The location is planned to be by the Performing Arts Center and Law School, with different entrances to the tent and handicap seating. 

There will be a map posted online prior to commencement for guests to see where these locations are. On the university commencement webpage, there is a Special Accommodations section. Students are encouraged to contact the Commencement Office at [email protected] or (401) 254-3166 before May 1, if they or any of their guests will require additional accommodations for the ceremony.