Is a commencement deferred a commencement denied? A GSU students thinks so.

Under a new policy, GSU students who graduate in December will have to wait until May for their commencement ceremony. Here is the May, 2010, GSU commencement at the Dome. (Hyosub Shinyosub Shin/AJC)

Under a new policy, GSU students who graduate in December will have to wait until May for their commencement ceremony. Here is the May, 2010, GSU commencement at the Dome. (Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com)

I received this letter from GSU student Kiana Nicholas, a film/video and journalism/public relations double major. Proving that she has learned something about effective PR, Kiana is taking her disagreement with Georgia State University to the public square. (She is president of the Public Relations Student Society of America. )

Her issue: She will graduate in the fall, and Georgia State has decided against a college-wide commencement ceremony for students graduating mid-year. Instead, fall 2012 graduates will have to wait and walk with spring 2013 grads in a joint ceremony. (Students will still graduate; it is the commencement that is delayed.)

A Georgia State spokeswoman told me this morning that the university’s goal was to raise the profile and fanfare of the spring event. The school is also hamstrung because it has no facility large enough for a commencement crowd so it had been forced to secure massive venues for ceremonies twice a year, not an easy task in downtown Atlanta.

The official statement from GSU is:

The decision to go to one commencement ceremony was given significant consideration.  It is our sincere hope that the plan will make our spring commencement an even bigger and more exciting affair. Our commencement office is currently reaching out to students who will be affected by the change and offering them alternative solutions.

Degrees will continue to be conferred three times during an academic year.  The academic colleges hold individual convocations prior to the end of a term for their degree candidates, which most students prefer to attend.  The college ceremonies are more personalized and intimate, with students celebrating with other students in their academic discipline and with faculty and staff from their college.

As someone who didn’t attend her college or grad school commencements, I am probably in the minority here. I have little enthusiasm for the pomp and circumstance of stadium-size gatherings. This decision would not faze me. But I know that many graduates love the commencement extravaganza and invite dozens of relatives.

Is it fair to ask GSU grads to wait five months since many of them may be elsewhere by then and miss the big event?

Here is Kiana’s letter:

Did you hear that Georgia State University has cancelled its fall commencement ceremonies? This has left thousands of future fall graduates like me without a proper graduation ceremony celebrating his or her four years of success. And how did students find out: a message on the commencement website and a story by WSB-TV.

Students, parents and even alumni cannot believe it and are outraged by the university’s decision and secrecy. According to WSB-TV, university officials refused to comment fully, only saying that the decision was because of the difficulty of scheduling a ceremony around the Falcons football schedule at the dome (and the subsequent $500,000 price tag). But aren’t the fall ceremonies held on Wednesdays?

And isn’t Atlanta filled with alternative, less expensive venues? Even the GSU Sports Arena can hold 3,500 plus in the stands and even more when you count the floor (which I read in an AJC article)!

After four years or more of paying almost $8,000 a semester in tuition, housing, fees and more, students are absolutely entitled to a graduation ceremony and should not be forced to wait five months to walk. Do you know where you will be five months from now?

Students can easily be out-of-state or even the country (just ask the international students). Besides providing a quality education, a commencement ceremony should be at the top of any university’s priority list. Just ask UGA, Georgia Tech and any other Georgia university which offers Fall, Spring and even Summer commencement ceremonies.

With over 33,000 students attending Georgia State University, it is hard to imagine having one commencement. The university says that students can go to the individual college convocation instead. There is no comparison between the two. One is small, not as formal and not as memorable. The other brings together all students, faculty, alumni and university to celebrate years of hard work and accomplishment. All students want is a commencement where the president and university leaders stand on the stage, look at each student in his or her cap and gown, and say “thank you” and “congratulations for all your hard work and success.”

This is especially true for Fall 2012 graduates. When we entered school in 2008-09, it was right before the economic downturn and the recession that rocked this nation to its core. Throughout the years, fall 2012 graduates saw parents lose their jobs, tuition and fees increase and fewer courses offered. We even saw friends drop out left and right due to the financial hardship.

However, we did not waver. We continued with our education and are less than a year away from earning our degrees. Instead of looking forward to receiving our diplomas and celebrating our accomplishments, our university informs us that we will not have a commencement; that the university will not bring all graduates together and recognize our achievements.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

117 comments Add your comment

Mahopinion

January 27th, 2012
12:50 pm

I understand a need to save money by having one “big” ceremony. However, it’s unfair to ask students to travel back 5 months after they have completed their degrees to do this. Jobs and real life take priority.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to it through a graduation of that many students. The ceremony takes long enough as is when divided in 2.

mountain man

January 27th, 2012
1:02 pm

They should just do away with all commencement ceremonies, then, “to save money”.

Warrior Woman

January 27th, 2012
1:04 pm

It is ridiculous to have a single ceremony, and absolutely unfair to the students. Perhaps fall graduates should get their activity fees waived, since the university is not providing them with the same services the spring graduates get. The university also handled communication around this very poorly.

Yankee Prof

January 27th, 2012
1:06 pm

First off, congratulations to Ms. Nicholas on achieving her goal and my sincere wishes that she gets to celebrate her achievement at the spring commencement.

The unfortunate fact is that colleges and universities have been asked to cut, cut, and cut some more in the face of diminishing yearly budget appropriations. Commencements are expensive, and multiple commencement ceremonies become expendible as budgets continue to shrink. Relatedly, some schools, I know, are switching from Saturday to Friday commencements to better manage expenses, an inconvenience to working families but, again, a necessary means of trimming costs without diminishing services. These may not be popular cuts, but they are responsible ones.

Ole Guy

January 27th, 2012
1:10 pm

Believe it or not, the sky will not burst into flame upon the graduate’s not having attended commencement. It may…understandably…seem like a big deal (and it most-certainly is). X years from now, probably sooner, it won’t mean a damn thing.

My first graduation ceremony was an event to remember, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend, however, due to “oh well” events, my Masters and MBA diplomas were mailed to me. While, at the time, It kinda pissed me off, I can honestly reflect that, over the span of my careers, it really didn’t matter.

I got over it, Kiana, and so will you. Remember, the important thing is…YOU DID IT! Good luck in your future.

NS Alum

January 27th, 2012
1:10 pm

This is ridiculous. As a GSU graduate, all of the individual schools and disciplines don’t necessarily offer their own ceremonies for various reasons. I think that is unfair to students who work hard to graduate and want all of the celebratory traditions.

Beverly Fraud

January 27th, 2012
1:19 pm

Why not just have a ceremony once a decade, so it can be a “really big deal.”

EPIC fail.

Bro

January 27th, 2012
1:20 pm

Promises offered by institutions and businesses are just like leaves in the wind. No one knows which way they will go or where they will land. GSU sucks at public relations and does not care about their students -only the money counts.

Good Mom

January 27th, 2012
1:21 pm

I agree with the student (and kudos to her for capturing the attention of the media — nice work).
The students will be in other places and hopefully have a job by then — there is no guarantee they will have the time or the money to return to the ceremony. It’s also a let-down. The university wants to make it a celebration but for whom? Surely not the Fall graduates. A celebration delayed is a let- down.

When costs are concerned, the university can simply do something less expensive and go to another venue.

What I think is the real issue here is public relations. The university wants to put on a “big show” to promote their own agendas and it is either too expensive or too inconvenient for the university to do it twice a year. This commencement ceremony surely is not planded with the best interests of the kids and parents in mind.

Tom

January 27th, 2012
1:22 pm

Well said Yankee Prof.

What matters is the education the student receives; I think the priority should be ensuring that education remains strong even at the possible cost of not throwing money and resources at an event.

Beverly fraud

January 27th, 2012
1:22 pm

Bf, I am literally laughing out loud at “Why not just have a ceremony once a decade, so it can be a “really big deal.”

EPIC fail.”

Very very very well said indeed. Thanks for the laugh.
GM

mystery poster

January 27th, 2012
1:25 pm

I, too, graduated in December. My college had no commencement ceremony. I could have come back the following May to graduate, but chose not to. I never questioned the school’s decision, it was theirs to make.

No big deal. It’s the diploma, not the ceremony.

Prof

January 27th, 2012
1:31 pm

There have just been several blogs on changes to the HOPE scholarship rules, with indignant parents and students asking why schools raise tuition and don’t instead cut their costs. Well, commencement ceremonies cost quite a bit of money, starting with renting the Georgia Dome. Now GSU is doing what the critics demand, and canceling one of the three annual occasions for this graduation show.

You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Big Jim

January 27th, 2012
1:32 pm

I was a mid-year graduate. It was actually quite nice to go back to the campus in the spring and see some instructors and friends. It is relevant to know that I had found a job in the area, so travel was not an issue.

Pat21

January 27th, 2012
1:34 pm

I graduated fall of 2011 from GSU and did not attend the commencement. It was held at 11am on a Wednesday, which is not a great time to have a ceremony if you work regular hours. I would much rather attend a spring commencement if it meant having it on a weekend when more people can attend. With that said, I am still waiting for my diploma to show up in the mail…

Bryan

January 27th, 2012
1:36 pm

If you are receiving the degree either way, what would you rather your future alma mater be cutting back on? Faculty? Facilities? Scholarship opportunities? Take a step back and focus on the big picture here.

cnn

January 27th, 2012
1:36 pm

With such a high amount of budgetary cuts and the majority of students cruising through GSU on HOPE, is there any real surprise that they needs to save money and cut ceremonies? And I echo mystery poster, I walked for my bachelors and skipped my masters ceremony. I didn’t care about walking, it is indeed the diploma that matters, not the hysteria of airhorns and cow bells at a ceremony.

cnn

January 27th, 2012
1:37 pm

Typo, apologies.

Devil's Advocate

January 27th, 2012
1:40 pm

Is it pretty much fair to say that no matter what bothers you in life, you need to just get over it? From education, to employment, to politics, to even relationships, if you don’t like it, get over it. The world is a mess and no one is entitled to enjoy it.

GSU 2009 Grad

January 27th, 2012
1:41 pm

It costs only $50,000 or so to rent the Dome for an event this large. Another PR debacle for GSU!!!

High School Parent

January 27th, 2012
1:43 pm

Maureen, I am with you. I did not attend my undergraduate commencement and really didn’t care about it. I was proud of my graduation magna cum laude but the ceremony did not mean anything. I attended my law school graduation only because my parents wanted to be part of it but these are smaller and more personal.

I now have children entering college and I will gladly forgo the costly graduation ceremonies for a reduction in the ridiculous fees colleges are now assessing.

CC03

January 27th, 2012
1:45 pm

I agree with mystery poster. I received both of my degrees in mid-year and I chose to walk at both ceremonies. It is the diploma that matters and if my colleges would have chosen to have only spring ceremonies, I would have made every effort to attend. In addition, the decision has already been made, so those students that will be impacted by this change know nearly a year in advance. If GSU decided during fall semester 2012 to delay the commencement until spring 2013, then I could understand students being upset.

Dekalb taxpayer

January 27th, 2012
1:46 pm

In a tight economy, this seems like a reasonable cut to me. And I think “outraged” is a little strong for this situation.

GSUgrad2003

January 27th, 2012
1:47 pm

Kiana, if you read this…be careful what you ask for. Contemplating moving a commencement ceremony to the GSU sports arena, although in theory a viable solution, presents challenges to the graduates and the university. Back in the day, when all commencement ceremonies took place there, you were allowed 4 people per graduate to attend. Think about it for a sec…you worked hard for 4-5 years, spent thousands of dollars on tuition, books, etc, stayed up odd hours days on end to get work done…and you arrive at your day. Now you have to choose 4 people to see your million dollar smile when you know you have grandparents, siblings, significant others who also want to be there with you. I wish I had your opportunity to have my commencement in the Ga Dome so my whole family could share that moment. But I had to pick 4…ruined what should have been an exciting day.

Chris

January 27th, 2012
1:48 pm

Perhaps the universities should start cutting back on their bloated administrative staffs before cutting back on things like commencement ceremonies.

Cluefull

January 27th, 2012
1:49 pm

Just have the individual “colleges” do it a day at a time and they can fit in the gym.

Mom of 3

January 27th, 2012
1:49 pm

Blah, blah, blah. “I want the Hope. I want a ceremony. I deserve this because I worked hard.” Get over yourself. Graduating college is no less of an accomplishment because you do not get a ceremony immediately upon graduation. Welcome to the real world where no one claps when you do your job well. Brag about your accomplishment on Facebook so all of your “friends” can give you a thumbs up.

CDW

January 27th, 2012
1:52 pm

I’m sure GSU COULD have the ceremony in their own facilities….in which case the attendees would be limited to the number of guests they could invite (if there was room for any at all). Then someone could whine and complain about that (I paid $xx amount of money for my kid to to so I should be able to bring my entire book club to the ceremony).

I attended my high school, college, and grad school ceremonies only b/c my mom promised me I’d regret it if I didn’t. I can honestly say “Mom, you were wrong.” Long, boring, and not worth the time.

For your $8,000 a semester you were ENTITLED to an education. Now let your first lesson of being in the real world be….you are not entitled to squat. And when you have worked for and earned something….you don’t get a party for it. You earned your degree, you got your degree (hopefully a job to go with it), and if the 5 seconds of crossing a stage is THAT important to you, go back in May.

Life isn’t fair.

anonymous

January 27th, 2012
1:58 pm

Thank you Ole Guy for those wise thoughts.
Man oh man, the things people WHINE about these days!
Take matters in your own hand sweetie!
Have a nice little gathering, prop that diploma up on display for ALL to see, then celebrate with your close ones for your achievements. You don’t need no big stadium with thousands of people around!
Be creative!

Sheesh, the WHINING folks do and the campaigning folks to do gather fellow WHINERS!

William Casey

January 27th, 2012
1:58 pm

I attended my commencement ceremony in August ‘71 only beccause of my Mom. No big deal. I didn’t enjoy it. But, then again, I was a “1960’s guy.” Mass ceremonies left me cold.

Devil's Advocate

January 27th, 2012
1:59 pm

I’d be shocked if Mom of 3 isn’t really Single Mom of 3. If she’s not she will be in the next 5 years with that attitude. LOL. I wonder how hubby feels after getting stuff done around the house when she gives him the cold shoulder for doing what he’s supposed to do…

William Casey

January 27th, 2012
2:01 pm

My real pleasure in graduation was the good job I started a month later.

Teacher Reader

January 27th, 2012
2:04 pm

More from our entitlement society. The university is giving notice and isn’t pulling this at the last minute. Students can’t complain about education costs and then demand to have 3 graduations a year. Life isn’t fair, and it’s a shame that this young lady didn’t learn this when she was younger. GSU needs to stick to its decision and move on. Don’t waste too much time on this, as I’d prefer a reasonable price for an education for my child.

Give me a break!

January 27th, 2012
2:05 pm

Are you folks kidding me? Just get over it? These kids have worked hard for their diplomas. A graduation CEREMONY is a public acknowledgement of a rite of passage for a crowning achievement.

So what if YOU got your diploma “in the mail”? So what if you sat home and picked your nose while your classmates were crossing the stage? Who gives a (bleep)? You exercised your right to sit it out, but don’t patronize the many that rightfully choose to partake in the pagentry.

In a world so decrepid, it is REFRESHING to celebrate something POSITIVE.

Congratulations to the graduates! You have EARNED the right to strut down that aisle!

Mom of 3

January 27th, 2012
2:09 pm

Thanks for the advice, Devil’s Advocate. The next time my happily married husband changes a few light bulbs I will remember to clap and cheer so he feels good about himself and sticks around for a few more years. Golly, gee. Hopefully he will then clap and cheer for me when I cook, clean, wash clothes, drive the kids all over town, etc.

Neil

January 27th, 2012
2:09 pm

I currently attend GSU and is about to graduate in May. It is unfortunate that GSU has decided on not allowing hardworking students to take full advantage of their college experience. Every student should make their own choice if they should go to commencement ceremony, the school shouldn’t be the one that makes that choice for us.

It is unfortunate that they did not include the student body in this decision. It is also unfortunate that we did not get any official forms of notification. I personally know over 15 classmates that graduated Fall 2011, for most of them, that was their proudest moment and a life long goal. I am disappointed that we don’t get to be called one by one and personally get a handshake from President Becker. After all, if wasn’t for the students, the school would not be where it is today. But I am happy that I will be able to say that I went to graduation. Many of those that graduates in the fall will not have that opportunity, because life happens and that opportunity may not be there for them to come back in May to celebrate their accomplishment.

Chris

January 27th, 2012
2:10 pm

See, CDW, the thing is that you had a choice to go to commencement. These students may not have that choice. Sure, life isn’t fair. However, should you be so bitter about it?

Mom of 3

January 27th, 2012
2:11 pm

To Give me a break! She has a ceremony. Just not when she wants it.

The United States of China

January 27th, 2012
2:11 pm

Only 25% of American adults have college diplomas… What have the rest of you been up to?

Give

January 27th, 2012
2:12 pm

Enter your comments here

Beatings will continue until morale improves

January 27th, 2012
2:13 pm

I wish that the local news organizations would stop covering GSU and their students. They are the biggest bunch of whiners. All these “trust fund” babies at GSU complain that they denied this and denied that. We dont have HOPE. Blah Blah Blah. The love those Occupy Wall Street people though. It always seems that GSU students have something to cry about. Do you really want to sit in Da DOOOMMME and listen to a bunch of ignorant parents yell and scream when their kids name is called and overshout on your own kids name? Yeah thats fun. Commencement ceremonies have lost their “pomp and circumstance. “

GSU 2009 Grad

January 27th, 2012
2:14 pm

In fairness, GSU’s ceremonies did not have individuals walking across the stage, otherwise they would be about 4 hours long.

Give me a break!

January 27th, 2012
2:14 pm

Yes, mom, I know. I was directing my comments to the posters that were saying to just forget the ceremony altogether simply because they had no interest in attending their own.

My graduation was 2 hours...

January 27th, 2012
2:16 pm

From a VERY large university. Maybe GSU needs to take notes.

Teach2Learn

January 27th, 2012
2:18 pm

One graduation ceremony per year is not an unusual schedule. It’s the way it is at many universities and colleges.

mystery poster

January 27th, 2012
2:20 pm

She could always drop a class or two, pick them up in the spring, and graduate when there is a ceremony.
/sarcasm

Harp

January 27th, 2012
2:21 pm

I think that there should only be one graduation ceremony held for all high schools and colleges, and it should be held in the Spring. I know people that finished their studies a semester early in high school, but had to wait until Spring, if they so chose to participate, to have their graduation ceremony.

Recent Grad

January 27th, 2012
2:27 pm

I graduated from GSU last fall (December 2011) with my Masters. I did not go the commencement, I did go the Business College Celebration. There, I didn’t endure long drawn out speeches that you will never remember and that have very little bearing on your life.

Yes you earned your degree. What you got for you $32K-$40K is the knowledge to be a productive member of society. Having two hours of your life wasted so you can be the center of attention for 3 seconds is pointless.

If GSU students want the Fall commencement, why not have the school charge the students an additional graduation fee for those want to attend. If the student doesn’t want to pay for it, they graduate in Spring.

While in school you had to abide by the rules and policies of that school. This just happens to be one of them. If you are not happy with it, refuse your degree, demand your money back and go to a school that will give you the 3 seconds attention you crave.

Wow.

January 27th, 2012
2:31 pm

Srsly? Tell this girl to call the whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambulance. You are getting a COLLEGE DEGREE. The larger ceremony is very impersonal and takes forever. WHY do you really care? Get your degree and jet a job and move on with your life. Boofreginhoo. People complain about E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. I say STUF and enjoy your degree and MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE. Holy crap!

Adam

January 27th, 2012
2:34 pm

I got to GSU and I have no issue with the new policy. It is not like they are making you wait 5 months to get your diploma, it is just a ceremony and it cost them a lot of money, 1 a year is fine….