North Texas Daily

Ceremony changes for 2015 graduating class

Ceremony changes for 2015 graduating class

Ceremony changes for 2015 graduating class
October 22
23:28 2014

Samantha McDonald / Staff Writer

Twenty-five minutes into the hour-and-a-half ceremony that marked the spring 2014 graduation of education and business students, UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson was invited to the podium to read his opening speech, congratulating students for the accomplishments that had brought them to that moment.

“Well, after 11 years of practice, I’ve concluded that I’ll probably never give the world’s greatest commencement address. So tonight I’ve decided I’ll do something different,” Jackson said. “I’ll give the world’s shortest commencement address.”

Applauses ensued. Whistles were blown. UNT President Neal Smatresk burst out in laughter.

In the sea of graduates, Kristina Agee stood, upset and puzzled that the audience of undergraduates and graduate students was amused at the chancellor’s speech, which lasted less than 30 seconds.

“Graduation is something I have always envisioned since I first came to UNT,” said the sociology senior, who attended the event to see a childhood friend walk the stage. “[The speech] was disrespectful to everyone who was there. People sign up for graduation. Family and friends are there, so why was he belittling this graduation ceremony?”

Although commencement speeches are scripted prior to the graduation ceremonies, it is not uncommon to hear about a speaker altering his or her address at the last minute without higher consent.

“I don’t know that it was intended to be offensive,” said Director of Special Events Laurea Irving, who helped edit the original speech. “I do know we have received so much feedback in years past that the ceremony was so long, so we have made efforts to streamline, make it more meaningful and enjoyable with an element of fun in there, and that might have been the nature of the comment.”

This issue, along with that of graduates walking only half the stage and not receiving their diplomas upon congratulations, prompted Agee to create a petition requesting three changes in the current system: allow students to cross the stage in its entirety, have diploma folders distributed upon students’ approach of the stage and ensure a “thoughtful” commencement speech.

“[Graduation] is the one thing that we all relate to. No matter what your major is, we’re all looking forward to the ceremony,” Agee said. “All I’m doing is giving an outlet for these concerns.”

A petition for change

In a meeting with Irving and dean of the Honors College Gloria Cox on Sept. 25, Agee presented a petition that she eventually posted on the online platform change.org. The petition has gained 270 supporters in the last month and Agee hopes to present it in an upcoming meeting with Smatresk.

“I’ve met President Smatresk a couple times at functions, and I can see that he really cares about students,” Agee said. “I hope that with the amount of signatures I have and the number of comments I received from alumni and students, he would be understanding of our concerns and hopefully change it.”

These concerns were a result of not only Jackson’s speech, but also Agee missing the opportunity to see her friend on stage because students were required to exit midway.

“Trying to accomplish a more efficient ceremony is definitely hindering our special moment,” Agee said. “If it comes down to it, between making the ceremony shorter and less special or making it longer to accommodate those extra things, it should be made longer because it’s a choice to attend that ceremony.”

Agee, who is scheduled to graduate this December, said she is willing to exclude the request for better speeches in order to pass the first two items in her proposal, which she deemed more important to her petition.

“I would hate to be alleviated by being told that you’ll get a nice speech but not the first two,” she said. “With everything that the university does to make the ceremony happen, I feel like it’s a very small issue to fix.”

A new commencement ceremony

Other developments for student graduation include the transition to a mass commencement, which will be held at the end of every spring semester at Apogee Stadium.

A mass commencement is graduation in which students, no matter what college they’re from, celebrate one graduation together.

Talks about a decentralized ceremony were first discussed during former UNT President Gretchen Bataille’s term in office but were set aside when subsequent UNT President V. Lane Rawlins decided to adhere to the status quo.

The shift came after Smatresk and a team of representatives, including the Student Government Association, college deans and faculty members, agreed on hosting a convocation for colleges at the end of fall and spring semesters as well as a mass commencement, which is the graduation arrangement used by most large universities, such as the University of Texas.

“We definitely have the size, but it feels like a smaller, more homey university, which is great for the student experience, but we’re not really functioning as that heavy player,” SGA President Troy Elliott said.

Students will be notified some time late this month or early in November about changes in the ceremonies, which will include the announcement of a renowned speaker who is yet to be determined by the implementation team.

Another adjustment is the cancellation of summer graduation. While students who plan on graduating in the summer will still receive their degrees, a ceremony will no longer be held. Instead, students will be given the option of attending the spring commencement of the same year provided that they meet credit hour requirements, a topic still being discussed by the implementation team.

Dean of the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism Judith Forney said she has been hearing positive feedback in the college despite these changes, a response echoed by Irving and other implementation team representatives.

“I have received no outcry from CMHT students regarding the summer change for commencement ceremonies,” Forney said. “I have identified just one instance of a student asking a department chair about summer graduation, [and] this student was satisfied that an alternative would be offered for recognition.”

College deans will have the freedom to decide how they want their graduates to be recognized at the end of the fall or spring semesters for the convocations. However, degrees will be granted during the mass commencement ceremony, which all graduating students are expected to attend.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Irving said. “My excitement is around bringing the university together as one. That’s a lot of hard work and excitement and success all in one place celebrated at one time.”

Featured illustration by Jake Bowerman – Senior Staff Illustrator

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