Monday, May 23, 2005

Arts & Sciences Graduation Fiasco

Marquette’s Sunday morning commencement at the Bradley Center usually gets media coverage, but none of the undergraduates get their diplomas there. Rather, all the schools and colleges have their own ceremonies on Sunday afternoon.

This afternoon ceremony has been an especial favorite of faculty, since they have an opportunity to say goodby to students, meet parents, and sometimes even pose for a photo or two. An informal ceremony, it always involved faculty and students forming up by department and marching to the stage behind a standard. Students would walk across the stage one at a time, get their diplomas (actually, diploma covers) and shake hands with the Dean. They would then leave the stage and shake hands with their department’s faculty, who would form a sort of receiving line. Within a few short minutes it was over, with faculty and students having time to socialize before both groups turned in their rented gowns and drifted away.

That’s the way it used to be.

But not yesterday.

Some parents complained about the informality and apparent lack of organization, and the Arts and Sciences College changed everything. The ceremony yesterday was converted into something very close to the morning ceremony, with all the students marching in, and then all the faculty marching in, and then the “stage party” marching in.

Faculty and students were segregated. And then both groups sat and sat.

There was the usual invocation, and the Standard Marquette Speech from Dean Michael A. McKinney. The Standard Marquette Speech must quote extensively from both esteemed Jesuits and politically correct black authors. However all the quotes must be banal.

Somewhere on the Marquette staff, hidden in some garret, is the Standard Marquette Speech Speechwriter. He or she needs to be reassigned to other duties.

All the students then paraded across the stage, one at a time, to get their diplomas (covers, as always). This took well over an hour. When the last person in the line, a young lady whose last name began with “Z,” crossed the stage there was a resounding round of applause.

Either she just happened, by a wild coincidence, to be far and away the most popular person in the entire College, or people were really happy the ordeal was over.

Everybody was marched out. The recessional was a song called “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang. Considered in isolation, a good and gutsy choice. But if the point was to create more formality, they should have stuck with that estimable Dead White European Male, Sir Edward William Elgar.

There was supposed to be a reception with refreshments after the ceremony. But nobody could find it. We still don’t know where it was, and in fact doubt that it ever existed. If it did, nobody else knew how to find it either.

And then, to add insult to injury, somebody set off a fire alarm. The crowd, sensibly, ignored orders to vacate the building, but the event was over anyway, and people quickly left.

Pretty much a wasted afternoon, from a faculty perspective. And a lot less good than it could have been for the students.

Dean Mike McKinney is widely respected by faculty for his sound judgment. But nobody bats 1.000.

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