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Are colleges giving winter grads the cold shoulder?

Janelle Vreeland

As more colleges revise their graduation schedules, fewer are holding winter graduation ceremonies

As you well know, commencement season is well underway. Grads are going out into the world, searching for new jobs, new apartments and, well, new lives. Although the spring grads are getting the attention they deserve, another group of college grads are being increasingly ignored: winter grads.

As a winter grad myself, I was a little shocked to find out that my college didn’t hold a winter commencement ceremony. I wasn’t keen on the idea of attending a ceremony in the first place, since there were only a handful of students and professors that I liked and talked to. My parents, on the other hand, were very disappointed. The “invitation” to participate in the spring commencement ceremony didn’t help matters.

Who were they kidding? As soon as classes were done in December, I was going to be filling out job applications, making connections and working my way to Chicago. I wasn’t going to stay in that little town, or plan months in advance to come back for some ceremony that I didn’t want to attend in the first place. I decided they could just send me my diploma and that would be good enough for me.

I’d had more than one problem with the way Hillsdale College, where I attended, operated. So I assumed that the lack of winter recognition was unique on their part. But as I looked into the issue more, I noticed that more and more schools were going the way of Hillsdale by either showing less interest in or completely ignoring their winter graduates.

Purdue University, for instance, recently announced it will be revising its graduation schedule.

Starting in 2011, it will discontinue its winter commencement ceremony. Instead, they will offer two single-day spring commencement ceremonies.

The university is citing two main reasons for the scheduling change. First, uncertain weather conditions have resulted in decreased attendance and participation —  in terms of guests and students — in recent years.

This seems to be a common problem among colleges: Salisbury University recently held a rescheduled ceremony for their winter grads after the original ceremony was canceled by a winter storm.

Second, cost and a lack of funding have had their impact on the university. Purdue, like many schools, must rent spaces to hold their ceremonies. The cost, coupled with poor attendance, has begun to takes it toll on schools.

Even schools that do offer an independent, timely ceremony for winter graduates devote less time to them than they do to their spring ceremonies. Baylor University, for example, devotes two days to spring commencement ceremonies while the winter ceremonies only get one. Some colleges, like Adrian College, hold shorter programs that don’t feature famous commencement speakers, as AC student Kristen Rooksberry recently told me.

Whether it is due to cost or attendance, colleges will, no doubt, continue to combine their spring and winter commencements. While this may be the best choice for the colleges themselves, it seems to be the opposite for students.

Their moment in the spotlight is dimmed considerably, whether they get a smaller ceremony or a shared ceremony with spring graduates. And delaying the winter grads’ walk until spring is especially impractical. By the time spring commencement rolls around, winter graduates are six months into their new lives. In addition to hopefully having new careers, they may have also moved away from their college town, making it very inconvenient for them to travel back just for a day or two.

I never wanted to walk at graduation, but I would rather that colleges offered winter-specific commencement ceremonies for their graduates than lump them in with the spring grads. Although a smaller ceremony would, probably, be inevitable and make some of the students feel slighted, it would give the graduates the recognition and identity they deserve. And after spending at least four years at a college, and paying it thousands of dollars for an education, the students should be able to decide how and when they are recognized.

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