Required Attendance at Commencement Creates Conflicts for Seniors


Photo by John Lee

North Bennett, News Writer

In order to receive their diplomas, senior students graduating this spring are required to participate in Whitman’s Commencement proceedings on May 22, 2016. Although this policy has been in place for a long time, the obligation to be physically present except in special circumstances still results in conflicts for some students.

“This [policy] is not something new. It has been a requirement of the college for as long as I know,” Whitman Registrar Stacey Giusti said. “And what the college’s position has been is that this is a celebration of what you have accomplished…and if people don’t attend it lessens the accomplishment of the whole class.”

Students can waive this graduation requirement by filing a request through the Board of Review, a group dedicated to assessing student requests for exceptions in college code. Students in the 3-2 Engineering program, for example, often successfully petition to waive this requirement through the Board of Review, as they do not graduate concurrently with their first-year class and finish their undergraduate education at a different institution.

Seniors who finish their courses in December also have alternative Commencement options and can choose to attend Commencement early.

Photo by John Lee

“If a student has eight credits or fewer to finish their degree, they can walk in Commencement without doing anything, [they] don’t need to petition the Board of Review. If [they] have more than eight [credits], say fifteen or so, the Board of Review is still going to let [them] participate in the commencement prior to [their] leaving. So we want to try to make it easier, but we still want to have as many students participate [as possible] to really show how much has been accomplished,” Giusti said.

Other students who finish their coursework in December, such as senior Tino Mori, decide to graduate as regularly scheduled. Mori received a temporary diploma when classes ended in December, but chose to return to Whitman for Commencement in May.

“Obviously I feel I have more in common with the Class of 2016, [so] I decided to wait to get my official diploma until May…If I don’t go back my diploma will not be valid…It’s only official if I come back and walk…But I definitely want to come back and see my friends, and…participate in the experience…and I think my parents and family would be interested in seeing it too,” Mori said, adding, “Whether or not it was mandatory, I would probably want to come back.”

The Board of Review also grants exceptions to students facing significant barriers to return to Whitman.

“If they petition the Board of Review and it’s a financial hardship, or if they’ve gotten a job and can’t take time off, yeah, the Board of Review is always there. So really, financially, [Commencement] shouldn’t be a burden,” Giusti said.

Photo by John Lee
Photo by John Lee

Nevertheless, attending Commencement can affect students in other ways. According to senior Ultimate Frisbee player Evie Vermeer, this policy was a factor in the Sweets’ decision not to compete in the Division III national tournament.

“We learned, among other things, that DIII nationals was going to be the same weekend as graduation, and in terms of commitments I made to family members, and commitments they made to come out and see me graduate, it was more important for me to be at graduation with my friends and family than it was to compete in a Frisbee tournament…[Other seniors] were all in the same position as me and none of the seniors were willing to go to DIII nationals,” Vermeer said.

In order to participate in Commencement, Whitman requires students to obtain a traditional cap and gown. However, donated caps and gowns from previous years are available for students unable to afford new ones. Furthermore, unlike many other colleges, Whitman makes Commencement more accessible by not charging students a graduation fee.

“We want to have as many students as possible participate to really show how much has been accomplished … It is a great accomplishment to have a Whitman degree, and we want everybody to be able to celebrate it,” Giusti said.