Chancellor considers combining graduation ceremonies

By Gus Bode

Chancellor Rita Cheng said the university’s 10 separate graduation ceremonies held in the spring 2012 semester might be combined into fewer ceremonies with greater attendance numbers.

Planning is still in the early stages, Cheng said.

“I’m looking at saving some administration costs and will be forming a task force this summer to look at our graduation practices and traditions and see if there are ways to improve them,” she said. “We’re looking at how other institutions do and it may be that we just take ten down to five or six … or instead of having three (ceremonies) a year, we have two.”


Cheng said she and members of the task force would research different models used at other universities and find out which one works best for the institution. Fall commencements performed in December have already been combined into one ceremony. There have been two in previous years.

But Cheng said she hasn’t made any decisions yet and is seeking input from the task force, which consists of faculty and staff.

“I’m just going to ask the questions and then let the task force look at best practices and what we can aspire to be as a major research university,” she said.

A total of 21,000 people attend the spring commencements, which are divided by college into ten separate ceremonies, said Matt Shackleton, assistant director for event services.

Shackleton said the university must take into account the number of guests per graduate. Roughly 2,000 to 3,000 students graduate per spring semester, and they average six guests each. In May 2011, 3,230 students were presented with degrees during the spring commencement.

“That’s the equation that plays into this more than anything else … because you have to find a venue where you can hold that number of guests per graduation,” he said.

But Cheng said she is considering reducing ten ceremonies to five or six rather than combining them all into one because there are some restraints with the number of people who could attend one commencement.


She said it is too early to discuss the pros and cons of combining the ceremonies.

“We’re not done yet,” she said. “It’s premature to talk about what the pros and cons are until we find out more about how we can really have something special that has an institutional impact on students as well as keeping the more intimate relationship that people have with their school and college.”

The university spends less than $40,000 on all ten commencement ceremonies, but Shackleton said that number isn’t extremely accurate. The annual budget for ceremonies is $150,000, which is funded by the $25 graduation fee paid by students when they apply for graduation, he said.

Shackleton said in the past couple of years, commencement ceremonies have been held at the Recreation Center or at Shryock Auditorium because of recent renovations made to the SIU Arena.

Six ceremonies are held at the SIU Arena during a two-day time span, and the other four ceremonies are held at Shryock Auditorium in one day.

The arena can hold roughly 8,000 individuals when it’s configured for graduation ceremonies, Shackleton said.

He said he isn’t sure which venue would be considered if more people were in attendance.

“My guess is that any venue that we could find would be talked about and discussed (and would be on the table),” he said. “I don’t know. I’m only speculating at this point.”

Audrey Lamb, a senior from Princeton, Ky. studying cinema and photography, said she wouldn’t want to have a ceremony on such a large scale. She said she thinks graduating with students within her college, rather than the entire graduating class at the university, would be more intimate.

“I think that would be a much cooler experience,” Lamb said. “I came from a small high school, so that’s how it was (for me then.)”

Cheng said expenses for setup, cleanup and bringing in guest speakers for each ceremony would be reduced if the ceremonies were combined.

Shackleton said he believes combining the ceremonies would be an effective cost-cutting measure.

“When you divide the ceremonies into two venues, you’re doing two setups,” he said. “You have to have double the equipment and double the staff.”

Shackleton said he thinks looking into other ways of conducting ceremonies is a good thing.

“I think the ceremonies have been done in similar ways for some time and I think it’s good to look at them and say ‘is this really the best way to do it?’” he said.