Dear Campus Community,
Due to the success of our split ceremony formats, we will continue to hold the Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies on two separate days, with the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at 10:00 a.m., and the Schools of Business; Education; Fine & Performing Arts; and Science & Engineering on Sunday, May 19, 2019, 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 17, 2019 – in the Athletic and Wellness Center. Please review the entirety of this message for key details and answers to commonly asked questions.
This announcement serves as a reminder about the new format for the May ceremonies. Students and their families, faculty and staff, and others should plan accordingly with travel arrangements and plans for attendance. We hope the reasons we outline below for these program changes provide context in understanding why the event will continue to take a new shape in the years ahead.
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 2017, nearly 2,000 students were eligible, roughly 1,500 participated, and there were approximately 5,000 people at each 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 through the 2016 single day ceremony brought new logistical challenges.
These ceremonies are the largest single gatherings 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.
The ceremony, where every graduate walks across the stage and has their name called, now takes about 90 minutes and there is a noticeable amount of reduced traffic, resulting in a safe ingress/egress crowd control, and general security both for the campus and the New Paltz community. We have also 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 as graduates cross the stage in the latter portion of the program. With the split ceremony format, we witnessed both students and guests remaining seated throughout the entire ceremony.
In looking at alternatives to one large Commencement, the benefits became quite clear. Two ceremonies 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 last academic year 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.
First World Graduation is Saturday, May 18, 2019, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. in Studley Theatre. The Honors graduation ceremony will take place Sunday, May 19, 2019, 1:30 p.m. in Studley Theatre.
We hope you continue to appreciate the reasons behind this decision, and are excited for another 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 spring to follow-up further on volunteer needs.
Thank you for your attention to this important update, and best wishes for a successful semester.
Program Director, Special Events