Commencement Venues: Does it Matter Where You Graduate?

It’s almost that time again. Graduation. For students, much is the same. Same cap, same crumpled, black gown that wasn’t taken out of the package long enough to let the wrinkles fall. Everything so identical. Except for one thing. The location.

For graduating students of UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, that’ll be Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. For the remaining eight out of 10 schools on campus, that means Swinney Recreation Center.

Here’s one building: an aging gymnasium suitable for watching the Roos shoot some hoops. The other: a fast-becoming Kansas City jewel that houses world-renowned performing artists. In the middle: students who just want to get commencement over with. Is the difference in venue fair? Senior Tevin Williams doesn’t think so.

Swinney Recreation Center

Swinney Recreation Center

HelzbergHall

Helzberg Hall

“Considering that [Conservatory students] don’t pay extra incentives to fund Helzberg, other students outside of the department hold the same rights to graduate,” said Williams, who will graduate with both a Conservatory degree and a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance.

So why not everyone in the same place? Who determines the location?

That decision is left up to the dean, according to Carol Dale, the Conservatory’s Executive Assistant to Conservatory Dean Peter Witte.

One reason the Conservatory celebrates elsewhere is due to the sheer number of students and their parents.

“We used to have spring commencement in White Recital Hall,” said Curators’ Professor of Musicology Dr. William Everett. “Seating was very limited for guests, and graduating students could only have a couple of family or friends attend.”

Everett has been going the ceremony for over a decade. It’s necessary to use multiple venues to accommodate everyone, especially with the limited parking on the Volker Campus, he said.

Dale Morehouse, Associate Professor of Voice, didn’t find fault with having the Conservatory’s commencement off-campus.

“[Helzberg] hall has wonderful sightlines and acoustics with comfortable seating for all,” he said.

Morehouse has held full-time positions at four universities. Just having a ceremony where students are individually honored seemed like a blessing to him.

“[Southern Methodist University] held a ceremony for all graduates in the morning, which did not include students coming forward to be acknowledged individually,” he said.

The contrast in location strikes a different chord for senior Lindsay Lillig, who will receive her Bachelor of Arts in Theatre this May.

“We as a university are so segregated when it comes to our departments,” Lillig said. “We theatre folk know maybe half of the singers and dancers here, yet we share the same buildings.”

Come graduation time, those buildings and their people will be separate like the departments, and students will celebrate with the group of friends they’ve made in their respective school.

The different venues may be unfair to some, but students mostly agreed that getting the diploma was of greater significance.

“In the grand scheme of things, what matters is the degree, not necessarily the location you walked for commencement,” said Conservatory senior Hailey Bair.

She noted that as long as her parents were there that the location didn’t matter.

“I could graduate in Helzberg, a gymnasium, or a parking lot,” Bair said, “and they’d be proud of what I’ve accomplished.”

Williams and Lillig said similar things. The only people more concerned than students about graduation and the location are parents.

Maybe one day students from each school will be able to celebrate graduation in a venue more closely associated with their degree.

“I can imagine that an Art Major receiving his/her degree in a place filled with great art would carry extra meaning,” Morehouse said.

Williams agreed, saying Swinney is great for working out, but not for graduating.

“A school with an urban initiative, such as UMKC, deserves to use spaces around it,” he said.
For now, students will just have to settle with the location determined by those brave enough to tackle the logistics of each ceremony, and that might be worth a degree all in itself.

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