Let’s Stay Together

Cartoon by Luke Benicase.

Graduation day is the celebration of everything we have done in college. Every day leading up to it requires diligence, courage, poise and even some elbow grease; it is everything we look forward to as undergraduates.

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, President Donald P. Christian sent out a campus-wide email notifying students and faculty of the recent changes that will be made to the spring 2017 graduation ceremony. Rather than have a single two-hour-and-15-minute-long ceremony, graduation will be divided by school and covered over two days: Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21.

Christian said that the change was made because “more students and more families have added to the complexities of traffic control, safe ingress/egress, crowd control, and general security both for the campus and the New Paltz community,” and that the “benefits became quite clear: two ceremonies will shorten the program to approximately 90 minutes each, very reasonable for this occasion.” The benefits might be clear in one aspect, but they are equally as frustrating in another sense.

We at The New Paltz Oracle understand the intentions of the SUNY New Paltz administration, but are very disappointed with their decision and how they arrived at it.

We understand that the goal is to ease congestion in town on the days of and leading up to graduation. We don’t, however, feel that the student body was given a say in the decision.

Christian said that “a number of campus and external stakeholders were consulted before finalizing this decision.” We, however, were not aware that this was a topic of discussion until the decision had been made and the email was sent. Much like updates regarding the library renovations last academic year, we don’t feel that students were appropriately informed on potential changes to graduation, either.

Later in the email, Christian stated that “We are one of the last campuses of our size in SUNY to move away from one large ceremony that announces the individual names of graduates as they cross the stage. Others hold a single ceremony but do not announce names; most have multiple ceremonies.” Additional research puts that claim into dispute.

Yes, SUNY Geneseo has separate graduation ceremonies, but they are held on the same day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. SUNY Fredonia, Potsdam and Plattsburgh do this as well, splitting up graduation ceremonies by mere hours, rather than by a day. Even SUNY Oswego, Cortland and Oneonta have their graduations split into three ceremonies, but they all still happen on the same day. We found no SUNY schools that have separate ceremonies on separate days.

According to data from Christian’s email, there were approximately 9,000-10,000 people at the 2016 commencement. At first glance, that might seem like an outrageous amount of people to fit on one single quadrant of our campus. Residents of New Paltz know that it is one of the year’s busiest days of traffic, no small feat to be sure.

But that is exactly what graduation day is all about. It is about having everyone’s friends and families there to congratulate them as they step on the stage and into the next chapter of their lives. It is a bittersweet moment of transitioning that students have been working toward since their first day on campus. And it’s about putting up with the madness of traffic and crowds for one day out of the entire year to celebrate the end of our undergraduate careers.

It takes the average student mere seconds to name friends they have outside of their designated major or school within the university. As a staff of students who all intend to participate in graduation when our time arises, we at The Oracle feel that the separation of graduation days by school will simply cause frustration among peers.

As cliché as it might be, our friends are the ones who have been there through all of the late-night-turned-early-morning study sessions, the nerves and anxiety of getting an assignment in on time or a passing grade on an exam and through all the meaningful, non-academic, bonding moments in between classes and extracurricular activities that brought us all together as life-long friends and as a graduating class. Being able to sit next to the friends we’ve made here at New Paltz on graduation day is something that seems so small, but means so much.