By Matt FourcadeMay graduates are upset about this year's May 9 commencement date, which falls on a Tuesday. Students say that the date is very inconvenient, and close to 200 signatures have been collected in hopes of changing it.
"I was very dismayed when I found out that graduation is being held on a Tuesday evening, and during a week that is finals week for many other universities - including both universities my children attend," said Rhonda Moore, a graduate student in counseling. "This made it impossible for them to attend and also eliminated any friends or family who live somewhere other than Houston from attending."
Moore was so upset about the scheduled date that she set up a booth on campus and collected signatures in support of changing the date to a weekend.
"I was there the day that she was gathering signatures for the petition," said Shannon Rountree, student coordinator for leadership development. "In just two hours she was able to gather close to 200 signatures, and this was not in a high traffic area."
"I had two petitions, one for graduating students and one for people who wanted to support graduating students in this way," Moore said. Rountree passed along copies of the petitions to President William Staples and Kevin McKisson, registrar and director of the Office of Academic Records. "The students aren't happy with commencement, and I'm not happy with commencement," Staples said at a recent Student Government Association meeting.
However, the date is not going to change. The school has already signed a contract with Reliant Stadium for May 9, so they are locked into that date. "We wanted a weekend date, and that's what we always try to plan for," McKisson said.
McKisson noted that two days had to be scheduled at Reliant Stadium, so the school can setup everything the day before. "We need a day to set up for the event, and the first time we could get in there and do that was the eighth, so we set up graduation for the ninth," McKisson said.
The ideal weekend dates were already taken by the Houston Grand-Prix, which will be in town during that time. "We couldn't do it earlier because finals aren't over yet," McKisson said. "We couldn't delay it another week, because that would keep students here an extra two weeks."
McKisson noted that they did look into having the event at another venue. "In the past, [we have] looked at a number of places; I've been informed that [the office] checked with Toyota Center, but they won't schedule anything that would interfere with the NBA basketball schedule," McKisson said. The school has also considered holding the event at Lakewood Church; however, McKisson noted that the school tries not to use any religious facilities for their events.
"There are a lot of Christian symbols in that facility, and it's assumed that it might be offensive to some of our students, especially those who are not Christian," McKisson said.
He noted that there are just not that many facilities that meet the school's requirements for audience seating capacity. Having commencement on campus is just not an option anymore. The last time commencement was held on campus, it had to be spilt up into five different ceremonies.
"There's really no audience capacity [here]," McKisson said. "There's no place on campus to accommodate the crowd, even if you split it up by five." Currently, the school tries to plan for about 10,000 people to attend commencement.
The school has outgrown Hofheinz Pavilion also. The last time it was used, students were only allowed to invite two guests, because of the limited seating capacity.
"We're at the mercy of Reliant stadium," McKisson said. "We're already trying to establish commencement dates for December 2006 and May 2007, but they won't confirm any dates. We have to wait on the NFL's schedule." He also pointed out that students are not the only ones unhappy with the date.
"I don't like it being on a Tuesday either," McKisson said. "It was the only option available. If I could have it on a Friday, or a Saturday, or a Sunday, I would definitely do that, but there is just no opportunity to do that." "I think this is an aberration," Staples said, "I don't think it will happen again." However, this does little to comfort the students who must deal with the possibility of having friends or family absent during this milestone in their life.
"I am glad that they will work very hard to make sure no one else experiences the disappointment that I and many others are experiencing because of this middle of the week date," Moore said. "I have to wonder if the administration had been personally affected by this date, would the graduation date have been moved this semester?"