Administration clears the air on commencement changes; doesn’t back down


Monica Sarmiento, Editor-in-Chief

Update (3/28/19): Dr. Henderson informed the community in a March 28 email that there will be one large Commencement ceremony at the Prudential Center on May 16. Students will have their individual names called and all guests will be welcome. Read here.

NJCU students responded with outrage over new changes to the upcoming commencement ceremony. In addition to a shortened ceremony on May 16 at the Prudential Center where students will no longer be called individually by name, there will now be smaller ceremonies for each school and college in the two weeks leading up to it.

In an email follow up, Jodi Bailey, interim associate vice president for Student Affairs, said “Our intention for the changes this year are to make our ceremonies more intimate and special for our students. We are working hard to ensure that students, families and guests enjoy our Commencement as well as the school-based ceremonies.”

“These changes are most definitely not so that we can take anything away from the graduates, on the contrary, we want to be able to pay more attention to them and in making the ceremonies school based, we are able to recognize each individual, connect each student with their faculty and show their families all that they have worked hard for during their time here at NJCU,” Bailey said.

Administration met with the SGO Executive Board and Senior Class Council earlier this year to discuss changes to the ceremony. Bailey said, “The Senior Class Council feel very strongly that names should be called at the Prudential Center and we most definitely understand their position. The final decision was made by the university leadership where it was felt that school based ceremonies would enhance the graduation experience for our students.”

“We definitely recognize and respect the Senior Class Council [SCC], they have been thoughtful, have engaged the committee in conversation and are true leaders on campus. It is our hope that as we continue to shape the ceremonies that the SCC continue to share their thoughts and feedback with us. In terms of the Commencement Committee, everyone is working hard to enhance the graduation experience for our students.”

Students still feel that their concerns were disregarded by administration, however. Senior Class President Nickia Williams said that a survey sent out to graduating seniors, “found that 70% of the students surveyed would prefer one ceremony at Prudential. Furthermore, our survey results had shown that 90% of the students would also prefer to hear their names called during a larger ceremony.”

News of a meeting with President Sue Henderson on Tuesday, March 26, was shared across social media last week, but Bailey confirmed that it is not open to all students. “The meeting on Tuesday is with the Senior Class Council and is a closed meeting and has been scheduled for about two weeks. We will be happy to meet with more of our student body to continue to answer questions, talk about the ceremonies and ensure that any concerns are heard.”

Many students have also expressed their anger over the short notice. The first graduation ceremony is set for May 6. A limited number of tickets will be available for the smaller ceremonies, causing an uproar from students who feel that two tickets are not enough.

Jessica Gilbert, a U.S. Army Veteran majoring in Graphic Design said, “I hate that I have to choose from my daughter, fiancé, in-laws, and siblings to see me graduate as a first generation college graduate.”

Other students have said that friends and family have already made travel plans or requested time off for the May 16 ceremony at the Prudential Center, where an invitation is not required to attend and seats will be first come first serve.

On a petition created on March 20, Marisol Melendez commented that she invited “a number of individuals that have requested time off and have scheduled flights to accompany me in this event. I am taken back by the lack of empathy and professionalism displayed by the university officials involved in this desicion [sic].”

Melendez, in an email, also said “We are finding out about this only a month and a half away from graduation. Therefore, many flights and other travel arrangements along with time off have already been secured for the May 16th Ceremony only.”

The university confirmed that smaller venues will have overflow space and live streaming for the individual ceremonies. “Some of our individual ceremonies may be limited based on the venue and the size of the school or college. We will make every attempt to work with students to accommodate all guests to the best of our abilities.” Students were told to contact the university here if they are in need of special accommodations.

These seemingly last minute changes raised questions about how the university will able to organize several smaller ceremonies in a short span of time.

Bailey said “It is true, it is a tight timeline! The faculty and staff at NJCU are fully committed to our students and to making this ceremony a success. You would be surprised at how quickly something like these smaller ceremonies can be put together when you have a group of  committed members of our community who are not only incredibly talented but who also are emotionally involved with ensuring that these changes create a positive impact for our students. We are all working within the same timeline, the dates of the smaller ceremonies were literally confirmed within hours of when the announcement was sent to our campus. Although there is only six weeks left before we honor our graduates, this is still plenty of time to organize our celebrations.”

Open Forum scheduled

In a follow up email sent on March 25, the university announced that an Open Forum will be hosted on March 27 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. in GSUB 317 to answer any additional questions. “Students are welcome to attend to hear from administrators and to share their comments and questions.”

It is also stated that evening ceremonies were scheduled to accommodate those who may work during the day. Students with conflicts based on a reading day or finals week can contact the university using this questionnaire.

The email ended saying “While we understand that change of any kind can be hard, our Commencement ceremonies are designed to provide a more meaningful, memorable, and individualized experience for graduates and their guests. We hope that those who are concerned with the change will take a moment to reflect upon the importance and meaning of commencement as the culmination of your incredible achievements. One of the hallmarks of NJCU is its close-knit community. When our students reach graduation, the University as a whole takes great pride in having watched them gain knowledge and ready themselves for successful careers. Your accomplishments are our accomplishments, and we expect this year’s celebrations to reflect a spirit of pride and respect commensurate with your achievement.”

Do you want to comment on NJCU’s changes to commencement? The Gothic Times wants to hear from you. Email Monica Sarmiento, Editor-in-Chief, at [email protected].

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