Humanities and Sciences will allocate money for ‘celebrations’ in place of departmental graduations

The College of Humanities and Sciences announced it will have a college-wide ceremony, and individual schools and departments will have funds to host dinners, award ceremonies or speaker events. CT file photo.

Eduardo Acevedo, Contributing Writer

Hannah Eason, News Editor

The College of Humanities and Sciences will allocate the money for each school and department to hold an event — such as an award ceremony, special dinner or speaker — in place of individual graduation ceremonies, which were effectively replaced with a college-wide ceremony, according to an announcement last week. 

Interim Associate Dean for Finance and Administration Ed Acevedo outlined the event suggestions, which were submitted to department chairs, in an email to students on Thursday. Acevedo said the discussion to change graduation started two years ago, prompted by variations in department-level ceremonies.

“A college-level commencement ceremony allows us to offer consistency for our graduates,” Acevedo said, “and ensures that we celebrate all our students in a way that is inspirational, uplifting and meaningful to all in attendance.”

In past years, money has been allocated for each unit of the college to cover the cost of space, refreshments and speakers. This year, that money will be used for school-level events, with extra funds available from the College of Humanities and Sciences if needed.

“What we did this year was that we didn’t ask for that money back,” Acevedo said in an email. “Instead, we have told units that they can use those funds to hold a celebratory event for their department.”

The “celebrations” will be held in the spaces previously reserved for the graduation ceremonies, Acevedo said, and the addition of the college-wide ceremony means a higher price tag for the College of Humanities and Sciences. 

“We are still in early planning stages and are getting quotes for things like the AV system, etc,” Acevedo said. “However, since this is a decision that was followed by two years of discussions, we do have budget allocated for a college-level commencement ceremony. This is an expense that was planned.”

Students have expressed concerns about the college-wide ceremony, which will graduate more than 1,200 students and last approximately two hours. CT file photo

When senior Kelsey Ott saw an email about graduation, she thought the message contained details about her departmental ceremony. The forensic science major said she was “frustrated and devastated” to read that departmental ceremonies for the College of Humanities and Sciences had been canceled.

Don Young, interim dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, notified students by email on Jan. 22 that there would be no individual, department-level graduation ceremonies for the college, which enrolled more than 14,000 students last year.

Young described the announcement as “exciting” in his email and outlined how the ceremony will take place. Instead of departmental ceremonies, more than 1,200 graduates will attend an approximately two-hour ceremony for their diplomas.

“It’s a coming of age and a reward for your years of hard work,” Ott said in an email. “This is a ceremony we all look forward to from our first day of college. This is a very important event to both me and my family. It’s been a long journey to get to where I am now.”

Senior mass communications major Adam Cheek created a petition on the website change.org in an attempt to get the College of Humanities and Sciences to restore departmental graduations. Cheek is a staff writer for the sports section of The Commonwealth Times. 

More than 1,800 users have signed the petition, which states that VCU’s plans to merge the departments turn the ceremony “into something generic and less special.”

Many students, alumni and parents added their reason for signing the petition, including Katelyn Eagle of Richmond.

“After 4 or more years of stress and deadlines, we deserve to walk the stage,” Eagle wrote. “This is especially disrespectful to first-generation graduates and families.”

Dorria Brown, the mother of a Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture student, said “people work hard for that honor.”

“I myself did not graduate college due to finances,” Brown said. “I’m a single mom and having my kids graduate college is a very proud moment for me.”

Tatem Crenshaw, who graduated last spring after studying elementary education, said individual ceremonies would be more “intimate,” and a larger ceremony would be “rushed, crowded, and difficult to sit through.”

“Students get closer with the people in their majors each semester,” Crenshaw said in a Facebook message. “And it’s nice to be able to celebrate your achievements with your peers who have been through the same courses.”

Crenshaw said some of her older family members, like her grandparents, would have difficulties in longer ceremonies because of health issues.

Recent graduate Nicole Delaware said students and VCU community members should have had an opportunity to give their opinion on the change.

“I think it’s best to ask the students and their families how they feel about cutting out departmental changes before VCU decided to make such a huge decision,” Delaware said in an email. “We all deserve a say.”

Delaware, who graduated in December with a public relations degree, said the department-level ceremony was important to her family, and a smaller crowd was easier for her immediate family to handle.

A list of schools, departments, centers, institutes and programs under the College of Humanities and Sciences can be found on the college’s website.

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