Indoor graduation leads to student backlash

Erika Avellino| Arts & Culture Editor |

Many seniors expressed their frustration after it was announced by the administration that graduation was to be held in Ross Sports Center instead of outside, as it had been in recent years. Conveying this sentiment was a post submitted to the college’s meme page, “st.yikes,” that expressed senior reactions to the plans. Sarah Poutree, ’23, submitted the post. “I was definitely frustrated,” Poutree said. “I would say just about everybody I’ve spoken to is unhappy. It just felt like a weird slap in the face after everything that happened with COVID.” She said that, given the beauty of the campus, graduation should be held on the Durick library lawn. Others expressed similar views.
“They’re asking us to have graduation inside in what’s essentially like a high school gymnasium,” said senior Maria Lacroix. “We have such a beautiful campus so why aren’t we planning on having graduation outside on that beautiful campus”. Both Lacroix and Poutree signed an online petition titled, “DO NOT HOST SAINT MIKES GRADUATION AT ROSS/TARRANT”, which as of April 6, has received over 330 signatures.
The description for the petition states; “By signing this petition you are showing Saint Michael’s College that you want your ideas to be heard. We do not want graduation at Ross/Tarrant. We want to be included in the planning and ideas. We want our goodbye to be just that- ours.” Many signers of the petition were able to contribute their thoughts. One user said, “We want to keep up with the tradition of having graduation on the library lawn.” However, prior to 2020, graduation had traditionally been held indoors.
“This is not a negative thing, we are just going back to our tradition,” said Denise Brault, head of the commencement planning committee. She explained that the decision made for this year’s commencement to be in Ross reflected several important factors. “Last year it rained, it was miserable,” Brault said. The school had purchased 2000 ponchos and distributed them to attendees who sat in rain, and it is difficult to keep diplomas and the sound system dry. “We’ve had too many grandparents, people with disabilities sitting out there in the pouring rain, and it’s just not right.”

Students sit in rain for the class of 2022 outdoor graduation Photos courtesy of Jerald Swope

Victoria Castillo, current assistant Director of Move and class of 2020 graduate described her graduation ceremony. Despite having a virtual commencement, the class was invited in the fall of 2021 to attend an in-person ceremony that was held on the library lawn. “I was happy with the way things turned out, so I would not have preferred it to be inside, although had it been an actual, full-length ceremony, I don’t think I would have minded to have it inside to avoid sweating in the sun or getting drenched with rain” , said Castillo.
Brault said there are also physical limitations to having an outdoor graduation. “The setup for this is so huge that we can’t pivot last minute once we know the weather,” she said. In response to the suggestion of setting up a tent, Brault also explained that stakes could not be driven into the ground due to the geothermal system installed below the lawn of the Durick Library, which helps to supply sustainable energy to the college.
Brault also clarified that graduation was to be held in Ross, and not Tarrant as some students believed. “It’s in Ross in the gym, it’s not in Tarrant where the COVID testing was done,” Brault said. “There are no bad memories associated with covid.” She added that if the weather is nice, there is going to be a reception on the library lawn.
Still, students expressed concerns regarding the spread of COVID. “I do understand there are weather concerns, but I don’t want us to risk getting COVID (or any other illness) at our graduation in an indoor space like this, nor risk immunocompromised guests (parents, grandparents, etc.) getting sick either. The risk may be lower than two years ago, but it is not gone.” commented Molly Thompson ’23, on the petition.
Despite student concerns and frustrations, the administration has moved ahead with its stated plans. “It’s beautiful inside, it’s such a celebratory event and such a feel in the gym. We really want seniors to be happy and I think they’re going to really enjoy it once they get there,” Brault said. “The committees working really hard to make it as nice as we possibly can. I want this to be a happy time for them. I want them to look forward to the day and by having it inside I know we’ll have a good day”.