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Saturday, December 09, 2023

I will have lived in Gainesville and attended UF for 4 ½ years come this December. I look back on my years here fondly. It’s where I made friends for life, it’s where I discovered a career path I’m passionate about, it’s where I came to learn more about myself and to grow. The same can be said for many of my classmates, as although each of our experiences varied, a part of our lives was shaped here.

Yet, as my and many others’ graduation date grows near, I am left heartbroken by the decisions of the university that I have loved since I first set up my freshman Summer B dorm room: the decision to separate commencement and walking into separate “university wide commencement” and “college-specific recognition ceremonies.”

I understand we are all human, so I understand that convenience, as well as the events of Spring commencement likely had a play in these decisions. I understand that the change is not ill-intentioned, and I understand that to those who choose not to walk, this is likely not worth getting upset about at all. Still, I find it necessary to make it clear how this looks from the perspective of many students.

An official statement by the university has not been made as of September 11, 2018. We had very little prior notice, and we don’t know for sure why this change was made. You can see the time and date changes made recently on the official UF commencement webpage, and a brief article by a local news channel discussed the upcoming change as a response to the events of Spring 2018 commencement. However, the university itself has not commented on it, or made much of an effort to make this change public knowledge, despite many visiting friends and families of students already booking flights, reserving hotels, and requesting time off well in advance of these changes. Now families must scramble to rearrange plans, which now encompass two separate ceremonies, with very little warning, potentially causing family members to miss one or both ceremonies. 

Not everyone will be able to walk across the O’Connell Center stage. I am devastated for my classmates whose dream was to walk across the O’Connell Center stage, to Gator Chomp into the camera and have a few precious seconds on the Jumbotron. I think of the students who are the first in their families to receive a college education. The students who are the first to graduate college fully paid for by scholarships. The students who have fought and are still fighting to be seen and appreciated in this country. The students who have fought and are still fighting terrible battles with mental illness, not knowing if they’d make it up to that stage. The students whose families need nothing more than to see the glowing face of their graduate out in front of them, to ease the painful memories of the family members who could not be there beside them. For those students, it is so much more than a stage.

Many of the colleges’ ceremonies will overlap. The Colleges of Public Health and Health Professions, Nursing, and Pharmacy will overlap with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on the evening of Dec. 14. The Colleges of Health and Human Performance, Fine Arts, Education, and Liberal Arts and Sciences will all overlap on the afternoon of Dec. 15. Finally, the Colleges of Design, Construction, and Planning, Journalism, and Engineering will all overlap on the evening of Dec. 15. Many students will not be able to see their best friends graduate. Two of my own dear friends at UF are twins: one in Fine Arts, and one in Liberal Arts and Sciences. If they graduate on the same day, they would not be able to attend their own sibling’s graduation, and the physical separation would force their poor mother to face an impossible choice, or miss out on both ceremonies. This is a reality dozens of students and families will likely face.

The president of our university will not be there to see us walk. Given the single commencement address, and the enormous overlap of ceremonies, it can be assumed that UF President Kent Fuchs will not be at the college recognition ceremonies. Certainly, he won’t attend the smaller ceremonies not held in the O’Connell Center. Our colleges will recognize our struggles, our triumphs, our pride — and for this I am thankful — but the university as a whole will not. To give an address without recognizing the graduates is to give an address to empty wallets atop pieces of paper. Fuchs may never hear my name, nor the names of most of my classmates. Perhaps a day will come when he’ll hear about a few of us and our successes in various ways, and on that day, I wonder: Will we then be recognized only as graduates of our colleges? I would wager not. 

We will be lauded as UF graduates, lifelong members of the Gator Nation. 

We will be praised in the way we presently deserve.

Kristen Sandsted is a UF senior and is graduating in December.

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