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Saturday, May 08, 2021

About one-third of graduates show up to university-wide commencement

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It’s been nearly 50 years since UF students have all graduated together in The Swamp.

After at least three students were pushed off stage by an administrator during a commencement ceremony in May, UF administration changed the way the university would hold graduation beginning with the Fall 2018 class.

The four-day event, from Thursday to Sunday, was made-up of 13 ceremonies, where graduates were individually recognized within their own college, and a university-wide commencement Saturday at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where degrees were conferred.

The doctoral commencement took place at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center Friday and also recognized individual candidates.

About 3,600 students registered to graduate, including UFOnline students, said UF spokesperson Margot Winick. By The Alligator’s count, about 1,100 students came to the university-wide commencement.

UF’s largest graduation ceremony is in May. Mid-year ceremonies typically have lower attendance, Winick said.

UF will continue to implement this new graduation procedure, Winick said. The President's Commencement Task Force will look for feedback via survey for three weeks.

In the university-wide ceremony for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the colleges deans stood up and presented their students. A UF Board of Trustees member then conferred the college’s degrees.

Students were given ponchos before they walked into the stadium for commencement in case of rain.

Stephen Stills, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, spoke to the attendants about how he always wanted to go to UF and gave advice to students. Stills was not paid to speak and was the first guest commencement speaker the university has hosted in about 40 years.

“If you have in mind a certain calling, one that might require post-graduate study or have been recruited for a top-level job, run for it,” Stills said.

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It was sentimental for Guy Williams Norris Jr., a 22-year-old UF finance alumnus, to be honored for receiving his bachelor’s degree in The Swamp.

“It was really cool to see everyone out on the football field,” Norris said. “It kind of brought life full circle to be able to walk in, hear the stands and see all the national championships and the history and tradition of the University of Florida.”

Two-thirds of the graduate seating area was empty and an unfamiliar graduation speaker made the ceremony disappointing, said Keri-Ann Chambers, a 22-year-old UF nutritional sciences alumnus.

It was also a financial burden for Chambers to attend two ceremonies on separate days, she said.

“Had I not booked my family’s hotel for the day before, it would have been something else we would have had to pay for,” Chambers said. “I would have preferred if all of it was done at once, and we walked the stage in one ceremony.”

Individual recognition ceremonies were put on by each of UF’s colleges, but each went about it differently.

This was not the first time the UF College of Medicine and other professional colleges, like the UF Levin College of Law, held a ceremony for their graduates. They have done it for more than five years, said officials from the colleges.

On Friday, the UF College of Medicine hosted a graduation brunch where they recognized their master’s recipients and then had the mentors of the doctoral recipients say a few words about their work habits and dissertations.

“We always did our individual celebration for our students so they had a more intimate celebration,” said Amy Davis, a program coordinator for Biomedical Sciences at the College of Medicine. “With the university going along their lines, what we have done is made it to more of a sit-down type formal thing.”

Carrie Lomelino, a 26-year-old UF biochemistry and molecular biology doctoral alumnus, was presented in the ceremony by her mentor Robert McKenna, a UF College of Medicine professor. He told the audience she had six chapters and 16 papers published and announced she will attend a postdoctoral program at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.

“It was really fun seeing everyone graduate and hearing from the different mentors on how well everyone has done,” Lomelino said. “We all know what we have done, but seeing what other people think of it and getting their recognition is really exciting.”

The deans from the UF colleges of agricultural and life sciences, education, and design, planning and construction said they had similar recognition ceremonies in the past but not recently.

“This is the first time in a while,” said Chimay Anumba, the College of Design, Construction and Planning dean. “But I think this has its merits as does the bigger ceremony.”

On Thursday, the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences held its recognition ceremony at the Stephen O’Connell Center. It had about 100 master’s and 320 bachelor’s students graduate, said the college’s dean, Elaine Turner.

On Saturday, the UF College of Education held its entire recognition ceremony of about 70 graduates at the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom.

Cy-Anne Small, a 21-year-old UF elementary education alumnus who received her bachelor’s degree, said her graduation was subpar. From the minimal decor, to speeding through the program in 45 minutes, she said she wished more was done.

“I definitely felt like it was perfectly fine the way format was,” Small said. “They definitely should have got rid of the person who was mishandling us. I liked plan A, I didn’t like plan B. I don’t want a plan C. Go back to plan A.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that UF online students were part of the 3,600 that registered to graduate, students were given ponchos in case of rain and that the graduation procedure survey will be taking place for three weeks. The Alligator originally reported differently.

 Contact Devoun Cetoute at dcetoute@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @devoun_cetoute

 

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