In response to student requests, the University of North Georgia is changing the venue for its spring 2014 commencement ceremonies to the university's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses. The venue has been a subject of discussion because the university does not have facilities with sufficient capacity on any of its four campuses to host the large ceremonies and maintain the practice of issuing eight guest tickets per graduate.
"The students' voice is important, and I am proud that the Student Government Association assumed leadership as student advocates by partnering with us to identify a solution," said UNG President Bonita C. Jacobs.
To facilitate the move of the ceremonies back to the Gainesville and Dahlonega campuses, student leaders agreed to a reduction in the number of guest tickets that will be available to graduates. The university, which was formed through the consolidation of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College in 2013, had planned to conduct four unified ceremonies at Free Chapel in Gainesville, a venue with an auditorium capacity of about 3,000. Some students who are scheduled to graduate in spring 2014 expressed disappointment with the plan because they view the campus-based graduation ceremonies as a tradition.
"For many students, particularly those who have family members who also graduated at the Dahlonega Campus, holding the ceremonies on campus is a tradition that we feel is important to preserve," said Rajpal Sagoo, president of the UNG Student Government Association (SGA) at the Dahlonega Campus. "We are very pleased that President Jacobs and the university's administration listened to students, responded to these concerns and agreed to move the ceremonies."
For students on the other UNG campuses, the issue has not been as significant, but the student leaders were equally supportive of the move.
"While we support the intent of unified ceremonies, if the summer and fall ceremonies are still held on campuses, maintaining the spring ceremonies on campus makes sense," said Sean Magee, SGA president at the Gainesville Campus.
The university had planned to move only the spring ceremonies due to the larger number of graduates at that time of year and the related space limitation concerns. The university planned to continue holding the smaller fall and summer ceremonies on the campuses. The movement of the spring 2014 ceremonies back to the campuses will increase the number of ceremonies from four to seven or possibly eight.
It is anticipated that there will be two ceremonies on the Gainesville Campus on Friday, May 9, and five or six ceremonies on the Dahlonega Campus on Saturday, May 10 and Sunday, May 11. The final schedule of ceremonies and ticket availability will be announced after graduation applications have been processed. The graduation application deadline will be extended from Jan. 17 to Jan. 28 to ensure that all eligible students who desire to walk in their graduation ceremony may elect to do so.
In spring 2013, UNG was still operating with two different academic calendars and held seven commencement ceremonies spread out over two weekends and two campuses. However, this year, the university is operating on a common academic calendar, requiring all ceremonies to be held on the same weekend.
Glenn Reece, SGA president for the Oconee Campus, noted that while there is general support for unified ceremonies, students from Oconee have always traveled for commencement.
Collectively, the student leadership supports a goal of moving toward unified ceremonies that might allow for smaller campus-based events or receptions to honor graduates.
"I am pleased that we can be responsive to students' desires to maintain a tradition of campus-based ceremonies in this situation," Jacobs said. "However, students, faculty and staff have expressed a desire to build institutional unity through common celebrations like this, so as we look toward our future and our ability to serve a growing student population, this points to a critical need for a facility or facilities that will accommodate large-scale university events."