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December 8, 2008
By Randy Fiedler
The record number of spring 2008 graduates that strained the capacity of the Ferrell Center has prompted Baylor officials to increase the number of commencement ceremonies in spring 2009.
During the two commencements held in May 2008, more than 1,900 students graduated, a number never equaled in Baylor's history. No limits were placed on the number of guests each student could invite to attend commencement, so the large crowd that showed up required Baylor officials to provide an overflow viewing area.
"I'm not sure if those guests actually had to use the overflow area while their particular candidate was crossing the stage, but the fact is there was not enough seating to go around," said Dr. Elizabeth Davis, interim provost and professor of accounting.
Davis said since forecasts of the number of students expected to graduate in spring 2009 promised an even larger attendance, officials knew a change was required. The Provost's Office began talking with various academic units, commencement officials and student groups to find out what alternatives were best.
One rejected option was limiting to 10 the number of guests a graduate could invite.
"We didn't want to do that because commencement is a celebration for students and their families and friends," Davis said. "We have many students who want to bring more than 10 guests, including students who are the first in their extended family to earn a college degree. Telling some of those people they couldn't watch their student graduate was unacceptable to us."
Another rejected option was having a "mass graduation," either in the Ferrell Center or a larger venue such as Floyd Casey Stadium, where individual student names were not called.
"We don't want to do that because that is inconsistent with a typical Baylor graduation ceremony. Our students and families value the chance to hear a name called and see the student walk the stage," Davis said.
A third option not chosen was to allow each academic unit to have its own, smaller commencement ceremony.
"We know that many academic units have a special identity" Davis said. "But we believe that the commencement exercise needs to reflect the fact that we're all part of one Baylor community."
It soon became clear that the number of commencement ceremonies needed to be increased from two to three, and it was decided to have one commencement on Friday afternoon, May 15, and then have the two remaining ceremonies on Saturday, May 16.
"I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of people were enthusiastic about the idea of adding a Friday afternoon ceremony. Many faculty and staff have already volunteered to work at it, and students have asked if they can be a part of it," Davis said.
The addition of a Friday ceremony means that the previously scheduled last day of class for the spring 2009 term -- Monday, May 4 -- has been canceled, and each of the study days and exam days will be moved to a day earlier than previously scheduled.
"Dropping a class day is not something we do lightly, but the only way we could guarantee we'd have a certified graduation, where students receive a diploma when they walk the stage instead of just an empty cardboard tube, was to back things up and remove a day," Davis said. "We got the approval of the calendar committee before we made the change and worked with the registrar to make sure it was feasible."
Having three commencement ceremonies means that, for the first time, students in the College of Arts & Sciences will graduate in two different ceremonies instead of just one -- the first on Friday and the second Saturday morning. Davis said the College was given the responsibility of deciding which majors and divisions would be assigned to each ceremony.
A full list of which academic units will graduate in each commencement ceremony is available on the Baylor commencement website at www.baylor.edu/commencement
Davis praised how smoothly the Baylor family made the transition to the new schedule.
"Changes that affect everyone across campus require major communications efforts and people working in good faith with each other," she said. "I'm very pleased with how this all worked out. Everyone was striving to do what is best for our students."