When Anthony Rojas walked across the O’Connell Center stage in May, draped in graduation robes, he looked out into the sea of thousands and felt in awe.
Now, Rojas worries other students and their families won’t get that same breathtaking moment he experienced after UF rearranged the graduation structure. Upcoming Fall and Spring ceremonies won’t have individual name-calling at a singular university-wide commencement, which will be held in the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Rojas, a 22-year-old UF political science first-year graduate student, started an online petition to give students a platform to take action, he said. Despite the petition amassing more than 8,200 signatures in one day, UF won’t reconsider its decision for the Fall and Spring, said Stephanie McBride, director of commencement, who learned about the petition Monday. Still, UF President Kent Fuchs has agreed to meet with Rojas and other students to discuss their concerns.
“I think it is important that students have the opportunity to express their opinions and concerns,” McBride said.
A newly created task force will evaluate the graduation ceremonies at the end of the year. The August 2019 commencement will maintain the past model because there are fewer graduates in the Summer.
“We will take any and all feedback that students have because it is important that students feel heard, and we understand what their concerns are,” she said.
These commencement changes come after the previous Spring commencement ceremony when a graduation marshal forcefully rushed students offstage. Videos from that commencement show a marshal putting his hands on minority students performing dances from their multicultural sororities and fraternities. Rojas, who attended that Spring commencement, said he doesn’t believe that the current changes effectively address the issue: respecting graduates’ right to celebrate.
“We feel that they aren’t even listening and prefer to be blind to, or simply not care about, the disappointment they have caused for many with this change,” Rojas said.
While he understands the need to have an efficient ceremony, he thinks most people in attendance wouldn’t mind waiting an extra 30 minutes for the graduates to be recognized on the Jumbotron.
Previously, students walked across the stage with signs and flags, showing off or thanking their parents, which made the ceremony unique, Rojas said.
Student Body President Ian Green, a member of the graduation task force, talked about the commencement changes during Tuesday’s Student Senate meeting. He said that the task force had little to do with the decision to change the ceremony.
“The task force did not make the decision that we have before us today,” Green said. “That was made by President Fuchs.”
Jireh Davis, a UF political science and African American studies senior and member of the Black Student Union, said the changes don’t fully address the root of the problem.
“UF is just trying to put a Band-Aid on the bigger issue,” the 21-year-old said.
Davis believes the marshal was unnecessarily forceful as he ushered students across the stage.
“It is not fair, it’s not right, and it’s absolutely disgusting,” Davis said.