Thursday, May 14, 2009

Seats at Graduation

Dear Students,

Thanks for all your hard work, sacrifice, and tuition. In appreciation of all you've done, we'll allow you to bring any three people you like to graduation. If your circle of family and friends is bigger than that, tough cookies.



Somehow, this just seems wrong to me.

It's true that community colleges sacrifice some of the trappings of The College Experience. There's less frisbee and hacky sack than might be found elsewhere, we don't do dorms, and 'frills' in general are pretty sparse. We don't get into controversy about Presidents as graduation speakers, since we don't get Presidents as graduation speakers. (Not that we wouldn't be open to it...hint, hint...) But even we usually like to give students the option of a real graduation ceremony, complete with academic regalia, Pomp and Circumstance, and beaming parents, spouses, and children bearing witness.

At my cc, as at so many others, graduation is held in the gym. Nobody is terribly happy about that, but it's by far the largest indoor venue we have. We could always risk going outdoors, but in my neck of the woods, you just can't guarantee nice weather on any given day. (Even with a huge wedding tent, you'd still have people crossing wide muddy fields on foot in their good clothes. Not good.) We don't have an arena like the major universities do, and renting civic centers and the like is often cost-prohibitive and a parking nightmare. (Actually, 'parking nightmare' is pretty much inevitable.) Besides, part of the point of graduation is to be on campus.

Unfortunately, the gym is only so big. In order to ensure that everybody's peeps get seats, we have to ration the number of seats per graduate. And something about that just rubs me the wrong way.

At colleges that attract students from hither and yon, it may be reasonable to assume that not everybody will be able to make the trip. But with a commuter student population, that's just not the case. And given the density of family and friend networks, we could probably double the capacity and still fill it.

Some universities do multiple graduations, broken down by 'college.' I guess we could adapt that to clusters of majors – allied health majors over here, liberal arts majors over there – but it would mean running the employees through the ceremony umpteen times, and the drain on the people behind the scenes would be considerable. Proprietary U used to have three graduation ceremonies a year, which had the distinct advantage of allowing students to walk when they actually finished. (In our system, January grads walk in May, just like May grads.) The downside, though, was that we all had to go through it three times a year, which gets to be a bit much after a few years.

Wise and worldly readers – has your college found an elegant solution to a shortage of seats at graduation?