Campus, News

A tale of 2 commencements

There are just two weeks left before graduating seniors gather at Angel Stadium for commencement, and despite repeated chants and calls for Long Beach State administration to alter the format, students say they’ve remained silent.

Over the last few months, and even since 2022, students demanded that commencement go back to the traditional format that includes walking across the stage and having their names called out.

“It’s a great school, but this isn’t just about commencement; it’s about how administration listens to the student body,” Zeina Elrachid said. “It’s completely doable to change the ceremony, and it should have been done after the class of ’22 graduated, but it just wasn’t.”

Just a few miles away, students at Cal State Fullerton are gearing up for a graduation ceremony that promises to highlight them in the way a traditional ceremony is expected.

Despite facing similar challenges, CSUF’s administration said they were determined to give their students the celebration they wanted.

Three key things that students highlighted in a survey sent out by the CSUF administration were walking the stage at graduation, having their names read aloud and having access to more friends and family to celebrate with them.

CSUF graduates celebrate at their commencement ceremony with family in 2022.
CSUF graduates celebrate at their commencement ceremony with family in 2022. Photo credit: Courtesy of CSUF

“We actually put together a committee across campus made up of students, faculty, staff administrators, and we designed a new program,” CSUF President Framroze Virjee said.

The program consisted of using the intramural field and Titan Stadium on campus to put on the $1.2 million ceremony. This also meant they could increase access for the number of guests.

Virjee added that, with the savings in the new program, the ceremony will include a few upgrades, including big screens and software that reads pre-recorded names.

Instead of having physical name readers at each ceremony, which can be tiring, taxing and expensive, the graduating students read their names and a software link uses an automated voice to say their names. Students scan a QR code that is provided as they reach the stage to cross, and their name is announced.

Sacramento State also uses a similar name-reading software that displays and reads students’ names along with their degrees on the jumbo screen.

In 2022, the CSULB administration sent out a survey to the graduating class, giving them three options for a commencement ceremony. Despite survey results, however, there was no change in the decision by the administration, who cited costs and staffing as the major challenges of doing a traditional ceremony at Angel Stadium.

“By doing it at Angel Stadium, we can have, you know, 2,500 people come in at once, that reduces the number of ceremonies,” CSULB President Jane Close Conoley said. “But by doing that, of course, we make other parts of the ceremony impossible.”

Having a ceremony with as many students as possible does allow CSULB to have fewer ceremonies, and Conoley cites that it reduces the costs from the 2019 $1.01 million ceremony.

The cost of the on-campus ceremony at CSUF is $1.2 million for 12 ceremonies on campus, according to Virjee, a number that is equivalent to what CSULB would potentially spend if the ceremony included name reading and walking.

Commencement at Fullerton was organized by a campus-wide community consisting of faculty, campus workers and students. The committee oversaw where each ceremony would be and when it would take place, and afterward, each college figured out the specific details.

President Framroze Virjee shakes and congratulates a CSUF student's hand at commencement
President Framroze Virjee shakes and congratulates a CSUF student's hand at commencement Photo credit: Courtesy of CSUF

“Our faculty love being involved and seeing the students that they have been mentoring and teaching and working with and doing research with,” Virjee said. “They love their students just like I do.”

Virjee added their ceremonies were switched from weekends to weekdays to align with campus workers’ schedules and create less of a burden for the ceremony workers.

“People are already at work,” Virjee said. “This is part of their workday, and they show up more now as a result and are more enthusiastic.”

When asked if students were involved in the planning of commencement or if a similar committee exists at CSULB, a campus official stated, “No, there is not a committee.”

Graduating student Rosie Mount said she understood the accessibility reasons for the commencement at Angel Stadium but stated that the administration’s choices didn’t reflect what students have asked for over the last two years.

“It’s important to have students on board and that communication so students know what is going on and what the actual work and logistics of a commencement like that actually is,” Mount said.

CSULB switched to the ceremony format at Angel Stadium to spread out students and their guests in the 40,050-seat stadium. Though the college campus has stopped enforcing the safety measures over the last year, hosting commencement off-campus leaves graduates asking the question of “why?”

Even though petitions and student protests gained momentum since last year, the administration continues to affirm that this style of commencement is the best possible experience for graduating seniors and their families.

Conoley states that another reason the ceremony remains at Angel Stadium is to reduce the stress on staff having to reboot between the nine ceremonies and not expand to the 12 that CSULB foresaw before the pandemic.

“That’s pretty exhausting, you know since I go to every ceremony, I can feel by the end of the 12 ceremonies, that’s pretty tiring,” Conoley said.

In an e-mail to students in late March, administration said it would continue with their existing plans, which do not include name-reading at the main ceremony.

Despite continued reluctance from the administration for changes to be made for the class of 2023, students on the CSULB campus continue advocating for change with few weeks left until graduation.

“I just think that as a university you should be able to manage commencement a little bit better,” Elrachid said. “At this point, Cal State Long Beach is just mass-producing thousands of bitter alumni.”

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