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

Graduates sing the UF Alma Mater at the close of the university-wide commencement at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday. Only about 1,100 students of the 3,600 registered graduates showed up. Photo by Devoun Cetoute

After only a third of graduates showed up to their Fall graduation, UF decided it had to make changes, again.

UF students graduating in Fall will once again walk across the stage at the O’Connell Center and have their names read, said Stephanie McBride, UF’s director of commencements. The single university-wide commencement at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium won’t be held for future Fall graduates.

There will be three bundled ceremonies for bachelor’s and master’s graduates from different colleges during this weekend.

UF President Kent Fuchs approved the changes on Jan. 25, McBride said.

The decision to make the changes came in part after about 530 guests and graduates of last Fall’s commencement completed a survey about their experience, McBride said. Some said they enjoyed the changes, but others noted a dislike for bearing the rainy weather in the open stadium and the feeling of a sparse crowd.

The decision was also motivated by numbers, she said. There are typically about 3,600 graduates in December and 8,500 graduates in May. The O’Connell Center seemed to be a better fit for the smaller Fall graduating class size.

These changes will not apply to the Spring commencements, which will follow the format started last Fall of having a university-wide ceremony in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as well as college recognition ceremonies over the course of the weekend, McBride said.

Summer commencement will remain as it always has, with two ceremonies held at the O’Connell Center, one for doctoral graduates and the other universitywide, McBride said.

UF changed the commencement procedures in Fall after nearly 50 years of the same routine following national news of at least three black students being shoved off stage last Spring by a marshal. They were seemingly rushed off for pausing on stage to perform a celebratory dance, which was a historical multicultural fraternity ritual for some.

Anthony Rojas, a 23-year-old UF political science master’s student who led a campaign against the university-wide stadium graduation, said student pushback helped show administrators how important being individually recognized is.

“My heart breaks for the people who did not get this chance,” Rojas said. “I’m happy we can learn from the mistake and see this was not the best way to go about it.”

UF continues to focus on their commitment to celebrating students for its accomplishment at graduation, said UF spokesperson Margot Winick.

“This seemed like the best way to honor the students and create a celebratory environment and atmosphere,” Winick said.

Update: This article was updated to include that UF President Kent Fuchs approved the commencement changes on Jan. 25.