As Saint Leo University students prepare for graduation, a mutually experienced struggle arises over whom they will invite to attend their commencement ceremony. Students have worked vigorously for the past four years to reach this glorious day, only to realize that they will have to deny entry to many of their family members in taking part in this celebrated day.
Saint Leo’s commencement ceremony is currently held in the Marian Bowman Activities Center, more specifically known as the campus basketball gym. A shared consideration amongst students experiencing this ordeal asks why the graduation ceremony is not relocated to promote a larger audience, more comfort and space, and a more pleasant environment.
While some students do acknowledge the value of graduating on campus, many advocate for the evident need of a larger venue.
“I understand why it is held in the gym in an intimate ceremony. Saint Leo prides itself on being a small, close-knit school, but we also pride ourselves on the success of our students and students shouldn’t have to pick only a few family members to attend such an important ceremony,” said 2016 Saint Leo graduate Zoe Elise.
“I have more family members that want to see me graduate than tickets provided to me. It’s difficult to make the decision of who is more important and who I value more watching me cross the stage,” said senior Caitlyn Stevenson, supporting the same sentiments.
Marcos Pacheco, another 2016 Saint Leo graduate, shared his thoughts on his graduation ceremony, saying, “I definitely think that the graduation should be moved to somewhere bigger and nicer…mostly because if [there is] more space, students might be able to get more tickets, which is just fair. Three to four tickets are not enough. A lot of people want to bring more than that. Plus, I think the gym is kind of tight and uncomfortable. Other than that, the ceremony is great!”
Taking into account these students’ thoughts, the idea for relocating becomes more comprehensible, as many students are dealing with the same dilemmas when preparing to graduate. While it can be agreed amongst most students that the campus basketball gym is not properly suitable for a graduation ceremony, there seems to be a division regarding students wanting to move the ceremony entirely off campus or relocating within the campus.
Many similar private Catholic universities do choose to hold their graduation ceremonies at off-campus locations, while some others hold their ceremonies in larger on-campus facilities, including larger gymnasiums.
University of Tampa, a close neighbor to Saint Leo University, holds their graduation ceremony at a much larger, local facility: the Amalie Arena. This year, though, they will be holding two different graduation ceremonies for about 700 graduating seniors in May at an outdoor location: the Florida State Fairgrounds. The ceremonies are scheduled for graduates of the College of Business and the College of Arts and Letters to begin at 9:30 a.m. The ceremony for the graduates of the College of Social Sciences, Mathematics and Education, and the College of Natural and Health Sciences will begin at 2:00 p.m. No tickets are required and anybody can attend the ceremonies.
Although most students do yearn for more space, not every student would prefer to move the graduation off campus.
In a Twitter poll conducted by the Lions’ Pride Newspaper, 45 percent of 22 voters showed preference for remaining on campus, but also providing more tickets to students for family members. 41 percent of students preferred to relocate off campus to a larger venue and only 9 percent preferred to maintain the current arrangement.
Liberty University, another private university, is holding their 2017 commencement ceremony on their football field, the Williams Stadium, and will host President Donald J. Trump as their commencement speaker. While this university does have a substantially higher student population, it does support some Saint Leo students’ ideas of relocating to a potential outdoor venue on campus, such as the lacrosse field, baseball field, or the bowl.
While students’ opinions are invaluable, input from the faculty and administration is also necessary to maintain a balanced perspective on the matter. Karen Hatfield from the Registrar shared that the graduation ceremony has been held in the gymnasium since at least 1978 when she began working at Saint Leo. She believes that it is both financially and logistically wiser to hold the ceremony there.
“Tickets are issued depending on how many apply to participate and tickets are allotted according to the seating capacity of the gym. All students pay a graduation fee of $65.00, regardless of whether they participate in a commencement ceremony or not,” said Hatfield. “It is important to many students to keep commencement on campus. Some students are visiting campus for the very first time and the heat and the chance of rain makes having it outside a problem.”
Hatfield also shared that those wanting to view the ceremony that are unable to obtain a ticket may watch a livestream on their personal computer.
“Saint Leo is a very special place and another location would not provide the same feeling,” said Saint Leo graduate and 2016 commencement speaker Masterson Dempsey. He explained that one of his favorite moments of the day he graduated was being able to walk around the campus with his friends and family in their caps and gowns.
Dempsey obviously had many friends and family members wanting to witness his memorable farewell address and despite being provided only two extra tickets, there were many individuals he could not invite.
Still, Dempsey does acknowledge that a large graduating class does provide difficult circumstances, as the gymnasium cannot fit everybody comfortably.
While it is not certain that any changes are possible in the coming years, it is very important for students that want to invite more family members to commencement to speak their thoughts in a respectful and constructive fashion. Then, it is quite possible that the voices of these students may be heard and a larger, more comfortable, and open graduation ceremony may become a reality.