VCU reverses announcement of spring commencement cancellation

Students protest the cancelation of the class of 2019's commencement outside VCU's Office of the President. Photo by Erin Edgerton

Logan Reardon
Staff Writer

VCU will hold a university-wide May 2019 commencement, though details on the location have not been announced, according to the VCU Office of the President.

This update comes one week after the university announced a cancellation of the event  — which drew the ire of a number of seniors planning to graduate in the spring — due to the planned closure of the Richmond Coliseum after December 2018.

“Many of you expressed your desires to proceed with a ceremony while the city re-develops the area that includes The Richmond Coliseum,” VCU president Michael Rao wrote in a mass email to the student body. “Fortunately, some venues across the region that were previously unavailable may now be options for us.”

Students held a small protest in front of the President’s Hall Oct. 31, a day after the initial cancellation announcement. Tanyqua Williams, a senior in the School of Social Work, said she attended the protest because of the “hard work, dedication, time and money” put into students’ majors.

“At the end of the day, everybody’s story is different. And the only thing that could have gotten somebody to this point is the excitement for our graduation day,” Williams said.

Attendees of the protest debated with vice president of university relations Pamela Lepley — whose office is in charge of planning commencements — in front of the president’s building during the protest. She attributed the initial cancellation to a “wide range of issues all put together,” including cost and accessibility.

“We just didn’t have a place where we could have a ceremony to the standards a commencement should be,” Lepley said.

Lepley said Monday she understood “how disappointing it was” to hear the spring commencement ceremony had been cancelled, but hopes students are happy the event is back on.

“We’re very pleased now that we’ll be able to provide [a commencement ceremony],” Lepley said. “As soon as we have a venue finalized, we will let the university community know.”

Evandra Catherine, a doctoral student in the School of Education, said although she was disappointed with the university’s initial decision, the disapproval expressed during the protest was aimed at the wrong people.

“It’s not our fault here at VCU, it clearly is the city of Richmond’s fault,” Catherine said. “I think the city of Richmond needs to be held accountable for that, hands down. It’s a 46-year tradition and you’re gonna take it away from us? It’s not fair.”

VCU has held its spring commencement ceremony at the Richmond Coliseum since 1972, making May 2019 the first time since then the location will not host the event.

Kaylin Cecchini, a VCU junior who created the Facebook event for the Oct. 31 protest, said she is happy seniors will get to have a commencement ceremony in the spring “regardless of what motivated them” to hold the event in May.

“They very well may have been motivated by the outcry of the student population,” Cecchini said. “But it would be naive to think they weren’t also motivated by the way this would impact their reputation and the contributions future alumni may or may not make to the university.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced Nov. 1 that proposals for redeveloping the Richmond Coliseum area will be brought before the city council. Plans for the downtown area include a new arena, a hotel, a large apartment building, low-income housing, a new GRTC transfer station and space for stores and restaurants.

Lepley said the office of university affairs hopes the new arena will be ready to hold VCU’s spring commencement ceremonies as soon as possible, but until it is complete, a new location will have to be used for the event.

“In the meantime, we’ll continue to find a place for our central ceremony until that building is complete,” Lepley said.

This story was updated Nov. 19, 2018 with the following correction:

Evandra Catherine, previously mentioned as a senior in the School of Education, is actually a doctoral student.

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