University officials search for solution to commencement problem

Simon Husted

After 73 graduating students were denied seats at one of the three commencement ceremonies this past May, Kent State officials are working to find a solution.

Approximately 510 people were forced to move to the KIVA or the Student Center Ballroom to watch the ceremony through a live video stream when the M.A.C. Center reached maximum capacity.

“We have a number of recommendations we’re going to take to the president probably (this week),” Provost Robert Frank said. “As we’ve talked previously, we’ve looked at a number of issues around how students RSVP.”

Frank said an announcement is expected to be made this week or next week.

Kayla Wilson was one of the students who watched the ceremony in the KIVA and stood out in the M.A.C. Center hallway after she walked across the stage.

“I was upset; it should never have happened to begin with,” the former physical education major said.

She and the 72 other students are expected to receive a DVD of the ceremony and a photo of them walking across the stage for free.

It is “not unusual” for guests to relocate to the KIVA during overcrowded ceremonies, Frank said. However, the 5:30 p.m. commencement — which included the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, the College of the Arts and the College of Education, Health and Human Services — was an unprecedented occurrence.

“We’ve never had that happen before,” Frank said of students losing a seat at the M.A.C. Center.

The occurrence was so remarkable that it earned a spot late this May on’s roundup of the biggest gaffes during college graduation ceremonies.

This year’s ceremony was different from the past because out of the 831 students who attended their graduation ceremony that Saturday evening, 106 didn’t RSVP ahead of time, according to university records from the provost’s office.

Lashonda Taylor, special assistant for the provost’s office, said students were informed ahead of time to RSVP for their respective graduation ceremonies. Students were reminded to fill out an RSVP application at the Grad Fair last February and through an email reminder that was sent between April 21 and April 25, Taylor said.

Wilson said she did not remember receiving an email to RSVP for the ceremony. She sent an RSVP only after a roommate told her about it.

Noah Plymale, a former chemistry major who attended the 9 a.m. graduation ceremony, said he also did not remember receiving an email about the RSVP.

Like Wilson, Plymale didn’t RSVP for graduation until a friend told him about it. He then had to share the news with two of his friends who weren’t aware either.

“I searched my email history and there was no email addressing the RSVP form, though I have friends who claim there was such a message,” Plymale responded in an email.

Also at Plymale’s ceremony was Douglas Dzurilla, a computer science major graduate. Unlike Wilson and Plymale, Dzurilla did receive an email to RSVP.

As far as changing the current RSVP system, Dzurilla said university officials should simply anticipate that a higher number of students would not RSVP for ceremonies.

Wilson suggested a different solution. She said university officials not only need to inform students more often about the RSVP system through email messages, but also need to use a ticket system to limit the number of guests they can invite.

Unlike some universities, Kent State doesn’t limit the number of guests students can invite. They do encourage students to bring no more than six guests to the ceremony, Taylor said, but because no tickets are issued, the university has no way of enforcing a guest limit.

The University of Cincinnati and Ohio University have policies that allow students to invite a limitless number of guests. An official from both universities said their attendance has never once overflowed as far back as they can remember.

Barbara Smith, events manager at Cleveland State University, said they’ve never had a problem with seating students and guests either, except the year Drew Carey received an honorary degree from the university.

Cleveland State not only limits allowable guests to six, but also records sales of cap and gowns to determine the number of students who plan to attend graduation — something both OU and Kent State don’t do.

Contact Summer Kent Stater reporter Simon Husted at [email protected].