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VCU students upset after school replaces department-level graduation ceremonies

Posted at 5:08 PM, Jan 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-23 17:56:23-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- VCU students created an online petition after the College of Humanities and Sciences decided to combine their departmental graduation ceremonies into one college-wide commencement.

The email signed by Interim Dean Don Young was sent to students' inboxes on Wednesday.

"We have an exciting announcement. This spring the College of Humanities and Sciences will celebrate a college-wide spring commencement ceremony to take place at the Richmond Convention Center on Saturday, May 9, 2020. Our ceremony will be held after the University-wide commencement ceremony. This ceremony will replace the department-level ceremonies held in the past," the email read.

VCU Seniors Adam Cheek, Sravan Gannavarapu, and Shaun Njovens helped spearhead the petition that was signed by hundreds of people by Thursday afternoon.

Adam Cheek

"These were intimate celebrations with the people we work with for the majority of our college careers," Cheek explained. "I would hope they would listen just being how chaotic this would be."

Gannavarapu encouraged his friends to sign the petition.

"We aren’t asking for too much. All we just want to celebrate with the people that we work with," he stated. "It’s got to be because of money."

Senior Chris Rasnick, who studies public relations, hoped college leaders listened to their request.

"All of your professors can shake you hand, your friends can cheer you on versus these larger ceremonies which are over 2000 people," Rasnick said. "It's just a bunch of strangers and a thousand names you have to sit through."

Thursday afternoon, college officials sent out a clarification of their plans.

"As such, we are still providing funds for departments/schools to celebrate their students. Rather than hosting a formal graduation ceremony, units can choose to host graduates, families and friends in another way," Interim Associate Dean for Finance and Administration Dr. Ed Acevedo stated.

A student award ceremony, a special ceremony for graduate students, and a potluck were suggested as alternatives.

"Two years ago, we recognized that we were the only unit at VCU not holding its own college-level commencement ceremony and this led to discussions on enhancing the experience for all our graduates. There was also a lot of variation in the department-level ceremonies," Acevado said.

A College of Humanities and Sciences spokesperson denied that the change was a cost-saving or budget issue.

"Part of the decision to create a college-level commencement ceremony had to do with past student and parent complaints," the spokesperson said in a statement.

In 2018, VCU President Michael Rao reversed a decision to cancel the 2019 university-wide commencement ceremony after hearing backlash from students. The reason he initially gave was that the university was unable to secure a venue for the event.