A graduation ceremony is the pinnacle of collegiate success. It is the opportunity to gather together friends and family to commemorate years of hard work and the end of an important chapter in life. It is the first official return on the investment of time, money and willpower put into earning a degree. And yet, some Comets are unable to take part in such a commencement celebration.
UTD holds fall and spring commencements in December and May respectively but roughly 800 students every year that will finish their studies in July, when no commencement ceremony is offered. While UTD did hold a summer ceremony once, the Commencement Planning Team — which comprises staff from the Office of the President and the Registrar’s Office — reported that the practice was discontinued because of the small number of graduates in relation to the high cost of the ceremonies. Instead, the university has offered a few different, but ultimately inferior, solutions.
Initially, summer graduates could choose to walk in the May ceremony preceding their final semester or in the fall ceremony following their graduation. Walking in the preceding spring ceremony was a convenient option for many but was ended after a number of students failed to complete their summer coursework after crossing the stage. The remaining option to return and take part in the December commencement is a suitable alternative for some graduates, but for others, it proves an impractical choice. Students who leave Dallas following the end of their studies are faced with the tough decision to take valuable vacation time off during the holiday season to travel back for the ceremony. Many students also feel that a great deal of the excitement would be gone when they consider the idea of returning five months later to walk with a class that they do not even know. But this is the only choice many students have — to attend a commencement ceremony months after the fact or forego a formal graduation celebration entirely.
There is a third option, though when I spoke with recent and past summer graduates, none were aware of it. When the university stopped summer commencements, individual schools were offered the alternative of hosting a summer celebration or presentation they found appropriate. Based on my conversation with a member of the Commencemenet Planning Team, however, only one program within the School of Management provides an official ceremony. Some students graduating this summer from the School of Brain and Behavioral Sciences in the Masters of Communication Disorders program took matters into their own hands. It was important to them to commemorate their time at UTD with their peers and families, so the graduates pitched in to create their own celebration. They did all the legwork — from booking a room and creating programs to hanging decorations and donating food — and took it upon themselves to pay tribute to their time at UTD and all they had accomplished in the past two years.
What if these students didn’t have to do it all on their own? What if there were something more official in place? Prospective graduates can contact their school dean to request a summer ceremony, such as the one put on by the School of Management, but even that does not guarantee that a program will happen. Fall and spring graduates do not have to petition for or plan their own commencement, and the approximately 800 students that graduate each summer should not have to either.
As a Comet alum who has walked the stage at two UTD graduations, I cannot imagine my collegiate experience ending on any other note. UTD is doing a disservice to itself and summer graduates by not having a permanent and official graduation celebration in place. I understand that a state-run university has to adhere to a certain budget, but it feels wrong that a commencement ceremony has ended up on the cutting room floor. To me, it makes sense that a university would want to celebrate every student that successfully completes their studies — whether that be in a university-held commencement ceremony or a school-sponsored program. As a young university, we should be doing everything in our power to encourage an engaged alumni network. Even if it costs more in the short term, the long-term benefits of sending students off with one last warm memory of their alma mater seem clear. Budgets and bottom lines are important, but when weighed against the triumph of walking across the stage to receive the degree you earned from a school you are proud to have been a part of, there is no competition. At the end of the day, the inherent value of honoring the sacrifices, hard work, and achievements of each student will always outweigh the costs.