A group of Ithaca College parents is hoping to change the structure of the college’s Commencement ceremony with a petition on Change.org asking to allow students to walk and have their names read during graduation.
Lisa Kleeman, whose daughter graduated in 2015, came up with the idea of the petition. During the 2015 Commencement, Kleeman was caught off-guard when she realized that her daughter was not going to walk during the ceremony. Instead, students in each individual school stood and were briefly recognized in groups.
“We had no idea [she wasn’t going to walk] until we were sitting there, and it was a huge disappointment,” she said. “Now that we have our third daughter going to Ithaca, I want to see her walk across the stage.”
When her youngest daughter, Erica, decided to come to the college, Kleeman expressed her concerns to several parents during orientation and said that they were surprised as well. Shortly after that, she discovered the Ithaca College Parents Facebook group and mentioned it there, where she got a similar reaction from the parents in the group, she said.
Scott Wolfel, whose daughter is also a freshman, offered to create a petition on Change.org roughly two weeks ago. He and other parents then shared it on social media, where it spread quickly among parents, students and other members of the community. The petition currently has over 2,000 signatures in support of students walking during Commencement.
“This is a simple change that knocks down an archaic tradition and gives each graduate the recognition they justly earned,” he said.
It is unclear when the college’s policy of not having students walking during Commencement began, but David Prunty, executive director of auxiliary services who co-chairs the Commencement Committee, said the tradition is at least two or three decades old.
He also said the committee receives requests from students and parents to have students walk at Commencement almost every year. When the committee receives a formal request, they generally get feedback from students in the Student Governance Council and the general student body. Prunty said that in the past, the conclusion has been that students do not want to spend the extra time at Commencement walking the stage or hearing their names called, which is why the committee hasn’t changed the policy.
Prunty said the length of the college’s Commencement varies from year to year but said that it’s normally around two hours. He said it is too early in planning stages to know how much longer the ceremony would be if each student were independently recognized.
Johns Hopkins University’s — which has 5,661 undergraduate students — Commencement ceremonies’ student lineups begin at 12:30 p.m. and end at approximately 5:30 p.m. Ithaca College has approximately 6,200 undergraduate students.
Tufts University has two phases of its Commencement ceremony. The first phase is two hours long and includes the All-University Commencement Address. The second phase includes ceremonies hosted by individual departments and schools. Students are individually recognized at the smaller ceremonies, according to Tufts’ website.
“Our charge is to explore how we might implement a change to read student names and have them recognized on the stage,” he said. “We are working on two or three possible options that we plan to present to the president and senior leadership team as soon as possible.”
President Shirley M. Collado reached out to the committee at the start of the semester, before the petition, and asked them to present her with logistical options for how students could walk or have their names called. Prunty said the committee has been working on developing the options for Collado for several weeks.
At the Sept. 25 Student Governance Council meeting, Collado addressed the issue and said she hopes students do not always feel they have to fight or struggle for changes they want on campus.
Senior Ryan Dubinin is the first in his family to graduate from college. He signed the petition and hopes they implement the change in time for his graduation.
“Graduation ceremonies are very arduous and very long, but I feel it is something that we’ve been working towards for a very long time that it’s worth that extra hour,” he said.
Senior Matt Porter has attended and worked at several college graduations at SUNY Cortland over the past couple years and is opposed to the petition. His primary objection is time, but he said he also feels that there could be some logistical issues as well.
“I, personally, just don’t want to sit through everyone’s names being called,” he said. “Sure, you get your one moment, but it’s in the midst of all these moments, and it almost becomes indiscernible which moment is yours.”
Senior Matt Lucas said his high school graduation was painful to sit through because it was too long. He said he wants his graduation from the college to be as short as possible. He said dedicating extra time to walking or having the names called takes away from the main purpose of graduation.
“Graduation is an individual achievement, absolutely, but it is an achievement that you celebrate with your peers,” he said. “I think graduation is much bigger than having your name called or walking on stage.”
Senior Liz Alexander, who signed the petition, said she was surprised how controversial the issue has become. Her family will have to travel eight hours to see her graduate, so she hopes they get that moment of recognition.
“It’s their achievement, too, it’s not just mine,” she said. “I understand why people don’t want to sit around at graduation all day, but I think an extra hour or two is totally manageable.”
Prunty said there are a lot of complex logistical factors that go into large-scale changes. The Commencement Committee holds meetings throughout the year to plan all the logistics for Commencement. They are currently researching how other institutions allow students to walk, but Prunty said it is impossible to satisfy everyone.
“This is the type of issue or decision where you ‘can’t please everyone’” he said. “Our plan is to come up with some good, well-considered and well-researched options.”