Spring commencement to be outside, university-wide

Andrew Atkins

As part of Kent State President Beverly Warren’s vision, students graduating in May 2017 will have a separate commencement ceremony in Dix Stadium.

This ceremony will be in addition to the smaller college-specific ceremonies currently held in the M.A.C. Center — where December graduations will remain —according to Lashonda Taylor, director of University Ceremonies, Events and Special Programs. The university-wide ceremony will include all regional campuses and departments.

Taylor said the outdoor graduation will be a way to foster a sense of belonging.

“I think this is a great opportunity to bring the university community together,” Taylor said. “Everybody’s just on board with doing a great job.”

Zachary Roberts, who graduated in May 2016 with a degree in broadcast journalism, said he wouldn’t want to have a ceremony in the stadium.

“It is just too shifty with the weather,” Roberts wrote in a Facebook message. “If it were to rain, which is common in Northeast Ohio, then it could put a damper on plans.”

As far as the weather goes, Taylor said the outdoor ceremony would be rain or shine in most cases, with the exception of extreme weather.

“You can only control what you can control, and one thing you can’t control is the weather,” she said. “If there’s extreme weather, we want to protect students and families. Even if we had to cancel university-wide ceremonies, individual ceremonies would still go on.”

Kent State alumnus Donald Dingman wrote in a Facebook comment that when he graduated in 1991, he didn’t like the outdoor ceremony.

“I hated the fact that it was at the stadium,” he said. “It was too hot and lacked an atmosphere of decorum (that) graduation merits.”

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Todd Diacon said the institution he previously worked for the University of Massachusetts Amherst — holds outdoor commencements.

The goal, he said, is to give students “a very impressive, impactful commencement as a whole with a very important and famous speaker and then … go to their college ceremony and their name will be called, and they’ll go across the stage … it will be a much more intimate and meaningful experience as well.”

Taylor said part of the planning process was approaching students, faculty and staff with the idea of a university-wide ceremony, and the feedback was positive.  

Taylor also said the university wants to be conscious of time, and (is) exploring the possibility of holding ceremonies in the ballroom, the Recreation and Wellness Center and the stadium field house.

Jacob De Bellis, who also graduated in May 2016 with a degree in interpersonal communication studies, said a university-wide ceremony would be too much to handle.

“I felt like my graduation day was very full,” he said. “It sounds good in theory but at the same time, it sounds extremely overwhelming, like another thing to add on to the day especially with incorporating family visiting.”

De Bellis also said while he doesn’t think he would personally enjoy (a university-wide ceremony), it wasn’t a bad idea.

Tickets for guests of students may still be required, but will depend on who the speaker is and how many people RSVP, Taylor said. She estimates that between 2,500 and 3,000 students will participate. The capacity of Dix Stadium is 25,319 people.

The graduation committee said it is still taking suggestions and can be reached at [email protected].

Students can expect an announcement with finalized plans from the university sometime before Thanksgiving, Taylor said.

Andrew Atkins is an administration reporter, contact him at [email protected].