RYAN MORGAN — Managing Editor
For the first time in nearly a decade, Southern’s undergraduate commencement ceremony has a new home. This year’s graduation will be held at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport; not the Yale Tennis Center as it previously has been. After Patrick Dilger alerted the campus of the move last month, many members of the Southern community were unhappy with not only the move, but a new requirement: a ticket for admittance into the arena.
Former university Interim President Dr. Stanley Battle set the gears in motion for a move before leaving office last fall. In the past, the Yale Tennis Center has proved problematic at times when Mother Nature hasn’t cooperated at the outdoor venue.
“Dr. Battle asked us to consider moving inside to a controlled environment at the same price, strictly because of the weather,” said Brad Crerar, student center director. “We’ve battled everything from rain to heat. The rain is fine, but heat can cause guests and students to pass out.”
Crerar said the committee took Dr. Battle’s advice and began to search for a new location. The committee identified two locations with sufficient size: The Arena at Harbor Yard and the Hartford Civic Center.
The committee looked to the Student Government Association and senior class executive board for input.
“I was able to give my opinion informally but wasn’t a part of the decision,” said Sal Rizza, assistant director of student life and senior class advisor. “For me it came down to the weather. Graduation is a big day and when the weather plays such a big role, it can really make for a unpleasant experience. Think about 1,100 undergraduates dressed from head to toe in black sitting under the sun.”
Rizza said he has heard students complain about the move, but he feels the benefits of moving in doors far outweigh the risks of being outside on a potentially hot summer day with elderly family in an arena that isn’t easily accessible.
After the announcement, many members of the Southern community were angry at the relatively short notice of change and limited ticket arrangement. Crerar said it was difficult to make the decision early in the year, as the University lacked a leader to make the final decision, as the search for a new university president was underway.
“In December we were trying to make a decision that should have been made in September,” said Crerar.
Rizza said he doesn’t think the move will cause a big difference in the long run.
“This year feels uncomfortable because it is the first time in a new place. Change can be uncomfortable. When you do something different for the first time in ten years, of course you’re going to get a reaction,” said Rizza.
Student Government President Jen Haddad said she agreed and understood the need for a new location even when she first heard of the idea. She said SGA shared their concerns with the university, but agreed an arena would be a good move.
“From students, its mostly been a concern about the number of tickets they are getting because they put a cap, but we are hoping what they’re saying, that you can get more tickets when there are some leftover, fixes that problem,” said Student Government President Jen Haddad.
The fully air-conditioned arena is approximately 25 minutes from campus and can seat up to 7,000 guests. Candidates who are wishing and eligible to participate in commencement must pick up their reader card and guest tickets by April 21 at the Adanti Student Center. Each candidate will receive up to four tickets in the first round. If additional tickets are available after the initial allocation, they will be distributed at a first come, first serve basis.
Crerar said he is optimistic and plans for a smooth ticket distribution that will hopeful ease the stress levels so many students have associated with the new ticket limit.
“If people are honest in taking what they need I believe we will have ample seating. Even if everyone takes their initial four, we should still have two to three leftover for everyone,” said Crerar. “People are stressed because things are being done so late.”
Crerar said the undergraduate commencement has never limited seats in his past 28 years at Southern, but the graduate ceremony have been limited in the past.
“Not everyone chooses to walk. I’d like to just say everyone take six tickets to begin with, but we need to accommodate for everyone. If you pick up tickets you decide you don’t want, please just give them back to us so we can share them with someone else. If you need two, pick up two, you can come back before April 21 and you’re still guaranteed your other two,” said Crerar. “Any empty seat will be a shame because someone else could have been sitting there. It is my goal to have every seat filled and every student’s needs met.”
Tickets will be available Tuesday April 17 and Wednesday April 18 from 10 am-6pm in the ballroom pre-function area, Thursday April 19 and Friday April 20 from 10 am-6pm at the Student Center Information Desk, and Saturday April 21 from 10 am-4pm at the information desk. Cap and gowns are available at the bookstore for $40.98 and must be purchased to participate in commencement.
“This is going to be an overall better experience. We’ve got arena style seating with students sitting [in seats] on the floor, basically in a fishbowl,” said Crerar. “Graduation is a big deal, it is a status thing. I truly believe stress will go down and we won’t have any issues next year. This is a big day to thank your friends, family and yourself for earning that piece of paper.”