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

UF’s decision to return to the original model of commencement for future Fall graduation ceremonies came down to numbers.

The smaller size of the graduating class factored in the decision, but it also had to do with money, said Stephanie McBride, the UF director of commencements.

UF spent more than $100,000 more from central university funds, which is what the university itself pays for, not individual colleges, used in the Fall 2018 commencement, according to commencement cost records.

The Spring 2018 ceremony, which followed the original model of individually recognizing graduates in the O’Connell Center, cost about $231,000, while the Fall 2018 commencement, which followed the new model of having a university-wide ceremony in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, cost about $360,000 in university spending, according to the records.

The total commencement costs were paid through central university funds, McBride said. However, colleges had costs associated with their individual recognition ceremonies. Colleges received reimbursements from centralized funds for venues and security.

“Spring and Fall should inherently not be compared to each other for many reasons,” McBride said. “They have two different sizes of graduating classes and two different amounts of graduation participants.”

Graduations cost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to how colleges choose to recognize their graduates, McBride said.

While the College of Medicine provides catering for their small graduating class, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has about 1,700 graduates, so its biggest expenses include the venue and security, McBride said.

“Every ceremony is going to be different by the size and personality of the college,” she said.

Between 8,000 and 8,400 students are expected to graduate this Spring, McBride said.

Graduation procedures were first changed when at least three black students were rushed off the stage by a marshal during Spring commencement last year. The students were rushed off for pausing on stage to perform a dance which for some was a multicultural fraternity ritual. The incident made national news and received backlash.

UF’s decision to switch to a university-wide ceremony along with having college recognition ceremonies over the course of a weekend was met with pushback from students as several gathered to hold a protest at Tigert Hall to voice their concerns in September.

After only one-third of graduates attended the university-wide commencement in December and a survey completed by 530 guests and graduates resulted in mixed reviews, UF decided to go back to the original model of graduation for future fall ceremonies.

Ivey Sapp, a 21-year-old UF education senior graduating this Spring, is excited to hear James Patterson speak at the university-wide ceremony at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in May.

“I hope it goes smoothly and everything runs efficiently,” Sapp said. “Hopefully there won’t be any hiccups like what happened last Spring.”

Dana Cassidy contributed to this report.

Correction: Colleges received reimbursements from centralized funds for venues and security. The Alligator previously reported differently.