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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Academics & Research

UH ends short-lived push for big commencements


Weather events like the flash flood that moved commencement from TDECU Stadium to Hofheinz Pavilion in 2016 are among the reasons why UH will move to college-specific ceremonies. | File Photo/The Cougar

The University provost announced via email on Friday that the school will move away from holding commencement addresses and using TDECU Stadium to present the ceremonies, citing weather concerns and stating that it will use the convocations to recognize graduates in a more student-focused manner.

The change means that starting with the Spring 2018 graduating class, new graduates will attend only the convocations of the college that corresponds with their major. The email sent by the provost said that almost 9,000 were in the last commencement held at TDECU Stadium in which former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger assured graduates that they would “change the world.”

“There’s something special about having a commencement,” management information systems senior Rae Kim said. “All the emotions, and the environment and the feeling of being among all those people.”

Kim, who will graduate this spring, said she feels like her graduating class will miss out on the pomp of the tradition. She said that it will affect the national profile of UH, because speakers who are not experts on a specific major-related topic won’t have the big stage to just present one speech, so they may look elsewhere instead of preparing multiple speeches.

“Convocations will proceed as they normally do,” director of media relations Mike Rosen said. “Going forward, the move will not change students’ ability to walk across the stage, have their names called, be recognized by the University and receive their diplomas.”

This spring, graduates of UH’s largest colleges, including the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the C.T. Bauer College of Business, will walk at NRG Stadium, nearly 6 miles from campus.

Smaller colleges such as the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts and the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management will hold ceremonies on campus at the Cullen Performance Hall.

Other commencement locations include NRG Arena and the College of Architecture. A complete list can be found on UH’s website.

Christine Klocke, director of marketing and communication for the provost’s office, said that there will still be convocation speakers and president Renu Khator has encouraged colleges to schedule the best speakers available. 

“The change is considered by the provost’s office to be a thoughtful decision made by the University leadership in an effort to avoid weather delays and cancellations, and ensure an optimum experience for students and their families,” Klocke said.

“Commencement ceremonies have evolved over the years,” Klocke said. “What has not changed is our focus on recognizing the conferral of a graduate’s degree as the pinnacle of their academic achievement.”

The sheer number of UH graduates means smaller, less time-consuming convocation ceremonies are a better idea, biology senior Alicia Gray said.

“It’s easier because there are a lot of students, and it will be faster,” Gray said.

Klocke said that the University recognizes that receiving a degree is the pinnacle of students academic achievement. The University is aware of the trend among large universities booking celebrity and high-profile speakers, but emphasizes the importance of students’ accomplishments.

“Smaller commencements allow the University to honor the students by name at the key moment of degree conferral in a single ceremony,” Klocke said.

UH’s first University-wide commencement in May 2015 was a rainy affair at TDECU Stadium featuring actor Matthew McConaughey. The following year, astronaut Scott Kelly spoke to graduates inside Hofheinz Pavilion after a last-minute change due to heavy rains.

The most recent commencement address by Schwarzenegger took place in blue skies.

With the $60 million renovation of the Fertitta Center underway and scheduled to complete before the 2018-19 basketball season, Klocke said the University has not made a determination whether the tradition of University-wide commencement ceremonies will return at some point and be held there. 

Klocke said the University is concerned with ease and wants to avoid any interruptions, while keeping the focus of graduation day squarely on the students.

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