Graduates to hear names called

Administrators backtracked this week, reversing their controversial decision to not call student’s names at graduation this May.

The previous decision had evoked a strong emotional response from students who demanded the right to hear their name at commencement. Almost 1,000 students joined in a Facebook group dedicated to the cause and more than 300 signed an online petition.

University President Fr. Donald J. Harrington sent out a letter on Friday, March 18, to tell students that he understood the their concerns and would have them looked into immediately. “Whatever the final decision, it must satisfy the concerns so many of you have expressed,” Fr. Harrington said in the letter, which was made available on one of  the University’s Twitter accounts.

“I promise you that we will resolve this together so that your graduation day will long remain with you as a very special time of celebration.”

The original decision was to have graduates’ photos displayed on giant screens on loop during the commencement ceremony. This choice came after a long discussion among administrators to keep students in their seats throughout the entire ceremony, according to Dr. Pamela Shea-Byrnes, vice president for University Ministry and University Events.

In the last four years, an increasing number of students left the ceremony after their names were called, administrators said.

Dr. Jacqueline Grogan, associate provost for Student Success, said that a great deal of work goes into planning the event in order for it to be a memorable experience for students, families and the University as a whole.

Darren Morton, associate vice president for Student Affairs, worked with a coalition including Dr. Kathryn Hutchinson, vice president for Student Affairs, and Patrick Brewer, president of S.G.I.

During this meeting with S.G.I., Morton said, the members agreed on a plan of communications to students to ask them to be respectful during the ceremony. S.G.I. is in the process of drafting an announcement to students that names will be called. It will also ask that students be mindful of others and not leave until the ceremony ends.

He also said the group will meet again later this week to check the status of communicating with students. Morton said it is also important for students to communicate with each other.

“If everybody does their part we’ll be able to work together,” he said.

The choice to go back to the original ceremony was greatly due to the active student response, administrators said. Aside from joining the online group or signing the petition, students directly contacted administrators to voice their opinion.

Nicole Tarantino said she reached out to as many people as she could to see if something could be done.

“I took action as part of the Facebook group, emailing many St. John’s important faculty and staff including Fr. Harrington, Dr. Pellow, and Julie Upton, and also having my parents call the commencement committee to voice their opinions,” she said.

Other students expressed their frustration with the chance of not hearing their names called after years of classes at St. John’s.

“For four years, I have thought about the day that I would walk across that stage, ready to move on to the next phase of my life,” Senior Louis Rashkover said.

“Yes, graduation is a long process…but there are so many other parts that can be cut down or removed completely,” he added. If saving time is a factor, Rashkover suggested shortening any number of speeches given as part of the ceremony.

Administrators said that speeches have been shortened over recent years to keep the time of the ceremony down as much as possible.

According to administrators, the current graduation ceremony has been developed over the course of eight years. They said each college had its own graduation ceremony over the course of one weekend.

The Commencement Committee chose to have one ceremony to keep with the University’s mission of unity – having all those who graduate together, as one community. After comparing the ceremony to those of other major universities in the area, the Committee has shortened the ceremony to about two-and-a-half hours.