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December graduation ceremony cancelled

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Graduates file into McKale Center for the 129th commencement ceremony last December. This year's December graduates are in for a change, as there will no longer be a university-wide ceremony.
By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 7, 2004
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This December, the university-wide commencement ceremony will only be open to Ph.D. and graduate students, while undergraduate seniors will attend their individual college convocations, university officials said over the weekend.

UA President Peter Likins said discussions began after members of the College of Law asked to opt out of the university commencement, preferring instead to only hold their own graduation ceremony.

"Later, other deans expressed an interest in that kind of model, so we thought to try it," said Likins.

The decision was made by the Commencement Policy Committee, which includes Edith Auslander, vice president and senior associate to the president; Alexis Hernandez, associate dean of students; Amanda Brobbel, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council; Alistair Chapman, student body president; the Office of Special Events and representatives from colleges and the Alumni Association.

Auslander, who spearheaded the changes, is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

But Chapman, who is strongly opposed to the changes, said the issue of flying tortillas dominated CPC discussions.

Tortilla-flinging at commencement has been a tradition for UA graduates for years.

However, Likins has tried to stop the practice in recent years because he said it is offensive to the Hispanic and Native American communities.

In 2001 and 2002, there were no off-campus speakers at graduation as Likins found the tortilla tossing tradition disrespectful.

Last year, "Tortilla Marshals" tried to prevent graduating students from smuggling in tortillas.

Chapman said videos from recent university commencements clearly show the majority of thrown tortillas at graduation come from the audience, not the students.

"(They) are punishing the wrong people," said Chapman. "I want the students to know that I've been fighting for them for the last three months."

Jim Drnek, associate dean of students, agreed that although student behavior at commencement was a problem in the past, it has improved in recent years.

"I think people are disappointed at the behavior of the community that attends," said Drnek. "The student behavior has leveled out."

Instead of eliminating the university commencement for undergraduates entirely, Chapman said security measures should be taken to reduce the number of tortillas coming from the audience.

"Students have been receptive to the 'Tortilla Marshalls,'" Chapman wrote in a letter to Likins over the summer, urging CPC to reconsider their decision. "I have no reason to believe that our guests would not also respect a similar security force."

Eric Hawkins, who graduated last spring with a degree in public administration, said the larger commencement ceremony is necessary to unite graduates.

"If you go to the UA, you need to go to a UA graduation," he said. "I mean, if you go to the school, the school should put on a graduation for you."

But Likins said the changes for the December commencement are on a trial basis, adding that CPC will hold discussions following graduation to "see how things work out."

"It's an effort to find a more personal celebration," Likins said.

But Chapman pointed out the more logical solution is to first curb audience misbehavior rather than shutting out undergraduates. This way, CPC will have an objective comparison, Chapman said.

"Let's put security at the doors to collect tortillas: Now you stop the students, now you stop the parents, now you stop the problem," said Chapman. "It's so easy."

In the past, each college has held their own convocation, recognizing individual students and featuring faculty guest speakers. Meanwhile, the university commencement, which was open to all graduating students, featured more prominent, off-campus speakers and gave out awards and honorary degrees.

Hernandez said the new university commencement will be similar, minus the presence of undergraduates.

The December commencement ceremony will feature Rep. Raśl Grijalva, D-Ariz., as a guest speaker, and award honorary degrees, the Alumni Achievement Award, a new faculty award and senior awards. Others speakers include leaders of the Arizona Board of Regents, faculty and alumni, Hernandez said.

Meanwhile, as President Likins will be unable to attend all of the college ceremonies, he will authorize cabinet members and deans to present degrees to undergraduates, said Hernandez.

Chapman said he was disappointed this decision was made over the summer, at a time when administration could not consult the student population for their opinions.

"It just seemed to me that people were forgetting this ceremony is for the students," said Chapman. "It (commencement) is a tradition that is so important to the students."

But university officials believe the changes will be beneficial to graduates.

"I think the college commencement ceremonies will demonstrate a higher level of pomp and circumstance, individual recognition and a more dignified ceremony," said Hernandez.

UA Provost George Davis said although some students may miss not having the "whole banana," they will still experience a personal convocation that is meaningful.

"(The) concept is to create an environment where speakers, honorees and others didn't feel double parked, didn't feel as if it were necessary to speed through the commencement and worry constantly about maintaining attention," Davis said.

Matt Elias, a political science senior who will graduate in December, said he prefers the smaller ceremonies.

"I personally like the smaller graduations because you get a better feel, because you're with a smaller group," he said.

Maurice Sevigny, dean of the College of Fine Arts who sat on CPC, said the College of Fine Arts has a long tradition of an intimate graduation ceremony.

"Many of our graduates prefer it to the mass graduation that lacks respect and proper decorum," said Sevigny. "It also allows individual undergraduates to be recognized on stage by name and receive their degree."

Chapman, however, said he spoke to recent graduates and their parents, asking for feedback regarding the university commencement. He found they unanimously preferred the university commencement to college convocations.

"At the beginning, you have the Freshman Convocation, and at the end, you have another ceremony that caps the experience," said Chapman. "It's climactic, fun ... it really defines the excitement of graduation."

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