Dear: Students, Faculty and Staff, and Alumni
Foundation Board Directors
Alumni Advisory Council
College and School Advisory Councils
We write to announce important new changes to the spring Undergraduate Commencement ceremony, beginning in May 2017. Please review the entirety of this message for key details and answers to commonly asked questions.
We will split Undergraduate Commencement into two main ceremonies, with the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences on Saturday, May 20, 2017 at 10:00 a.m., and the Schools of Science & Engineering; Business; Education; and Fine & Performing Arts; on Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. Both ceremonies will take place on the Old Main Quad. The Graduate Commencement ceremony will continue to be held on Friday evening – May 19, 2017 – in the Athletic and Wellness Center.
We are making today’s announcement eight months in advance of the May ceremonies to allow students and their families, faculty and staff, and others the opportunity to plan accordingly with travel arrangements and plans for attendance. We recognize that many families like to make plans early and hope the reasons we outline below for these program changes provide context in understanding why the event will take a new shape beginning this spring.
As our students continue to achieve new levels of success and our undergraduate enrollments remain steady, our graduation rates have increased, which means more students have become eligible and chose to participate in the Undergraduate Commencement. In 2016, nearly 2,000 students were eligible, roughly 1,400 participated, and there were approximately 9,000-10,000 people at the ceremony. We welcome and are encouraged by the school spirit demonstrated by our campus community. The additional participating graduates and their families and friends have added to the celebratory atmosphere of the event, but peak participation has also brought new logistical challenges.
This is the largest single gathering of the campus community and guests, and the safety and security of the event continue to be among our top priorities. There are no inside venues on campus or within a reasonable driving distance from campus that can accommodate a gathering of this size, hence the need to hold it outside. More students and more families have added to the complexities of traffic control, safe ingress/egress, crowd control, and general security both for the campus and the New Paltz community. The ceremony, where every graduate walks across the stage and has their name called, takes about two hours and fifteen minutes and has been followed later by students and families trying to leave with parts of campus and local traffic coming to a virtual standstill. We have noted in recent years that many graduates and their families do not stay for the entire program, disrupting and diminishing the experience for those students and their families who march across the stage in the latter portion of the program.
In looking at alternatives to one large Commencement, the benefits became quite clear. Two ceremonies will shorten the program to approximately 90 minutes each, very reasonable for this occasion. We are one of the last campuses of our size in SUNY to move away from one large ceremony that announces the individual names of graduates as they cross the stage. Others hold a single ceremony but do not announce names; most have multiple ceremonies. At New Paltz, we value preserving this attention on the individual graduate. Splitting the ceremony allows us to continue this practice while also creating a more secure and manageable program, and overall experience for graduates, their families and friends. The College continues to have significant space constraints, which would make multiple school-based ceremonies, even over two days, impractical.
A number of campus and external stakeholders were consulted before finalizing this decision, including the College Cabinet, University Police, Environmental Health & Safety, other senior campus leaders, local employee union leadership, Residence Life, and faculty and staff who advise other ceremonies during Commencement weekend.
Staff advisors to First World Graduation were consulted and support moving that program to the afternoon of Saturday, May 20, and the Honors Graduation was consulted and supported moving that ceremony to the afternoon of Sunday, May 21. These ceremonies are held indoors.
At a special town-gown meeting this summer with campus and local community leaders, we introduced the proposal to the Village Mayor, Town Supervisor, School District Superintendent, New Paltz Police Department and New Paltz Fire Department. These external stakeholders expressed support for this change and agreed that two busy mornings on a May weekend was a much better approach than one congested and overcrowded day. The New Paltz Rescue Squad and New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce were consulted following this meeting as well. Weather considerations, such as heat and tendency of thunderstorms to occur in the afternoon, led us to avoid afternoon ceremonies outdoors.
We hope you appreciate the reasons behind this decision, and are excited for the revamped Commencement weekend! For the full success of the ceremonies, academic faculty participation on one or both days remains critical, as does professional faculty and staff volunteers who serve as marshals for the program. Your role navigating students and guests comfortably through the ceremony is essential. The participation and New Paltz spirit among our faculty and staff also matter greatly as our graduates close out their student experience and transition into alumni. Lisa Sandick will be in touch this fall to follow-up further on these volunteer needs.
Thank you for your attention to this important update, and best wishes for a successful semester.