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Students weigh in on December commencement

Sociology senior Melissa Benavidez recommends increasing the graduation fee to allow for a December graduation ceremony at the SGA forum April 10. The forum followed student opposition to an administrative decision to have one annual commencement ceremony. Photos by Melody Mendoza

Marilu Reyna, associate vice president of university communications, told students at an SGA forum April 10 that she is already looking for a place to host a December graduation commencement ceremony.

Student Government Association hosted the evening forum at Brooks City-Base Campus and invited Reyna to address recent student concerns about an administrative decision to reduce two annual commencement ceremonies down to one annual commencement ceremony in the spring. Read the story.

Eleven students and four SGA members attended the evening forum, and free pizza was served.

Although the decision to have a December graduation is not finalized, Reyna said administrators are reconsidering because they’ve received student opposition to the decision in person and by phone.

“I could easily say that the students have spoken,” she said. “I think we’re going to be ready to announce that we’re going to add a December graduation.”

Reyna also said almost 700 students have already responded to a survey aimed at collecting student feedback on one ceremony. The survey opened April 6 and closes April 16.

The survey focuses on the two issues — having two ceremonies that limits students to eight tickets or one annual ceremony in a larger venue that provides unlimited seating for extended friends and family.

The decision to have one annual ceremony was initially made to address previous graduate complaints about having limited tickets. Community Bible Church, the previous location, would be able to accommodate graduates but not their guests.

Marilu Reyna, associate vice president of university communications, addressed student questions about a possible December commencement ceremony. Student Government Association hosted a forum and invited Reyna to answer questions.

Reyna said that administrators thought they were addressing a need but almost immediately receive opposition.

“We were listening to students that had been graduating and we weren’t listening to those waiting to graduate in December,” she said.

Many Texas A&M-San Antonio students are first in the family to graduate, Reyna said, who have expressed the importance of having their family attend the ceremony.

By moving to one ceremony at a larger facility, the Freeman Coliseum, which sits 8,000 people, the University would be able to eliminate the eight tickets previously distributed to graduates.

Reyna encouraged students to voice their concerns through the survey and by phone.

“I can’t tell you where the graduation is going to be or the date,” Reyna said of the possible December graduation. Depending on what’s important for students via the survey, Reyna said the University will choose a location.

Reyna explained that she is exploring the options, which include having a ceremony at Community Bible Church, Lila Cockrell Theater, outside at Main Campus Building or Freeman Coliseum.

This spring’s ceremony is scheduled for May 18 at Freeman Coliseum, 3201 E. Houston St., where 675 are expected to graduate. Reyna said on average there are about 500 graduates who show up to the ceremony in the spring and 300 in the fall.

Reyna added that if the ceremony was at Lila Cockrell Theater, 200 East Market St., parking downtown may be an issue. She said it would be great to show off the University’s Main Campus if the ceremony was held there. And if the University chose the Freeman Coliseum, they may just use a portion because it would be too large for a fall ceremony.

Education senior Melissa Zamora suggests hosting a fall commencement ceremony at a local high school like Southwest High School’s auditorium, which sits 900 people. Zamora attended the SGA forum to show her opposition to one annual graduation ceremony.

Education senior Melissa Zamora said her professor from Southwest High School offered the high school auditorium, which seats 900.

In response, Reyna said that the University has held the ceremony at high schools before, but students have complained that they’re graduating at a high school. She added that the University wouldn’t rule out utilizing a high school auditorium as a backup plan.

“I would rather do that than graduate a year later,” Zamora said.

Accounting senior Melissa Quintanilla said she has also discussed the decision in a class where her professor suggested having separate ceremonies for each school (School of Business, Arts and Sciences and Education and Kinesiology).

But Reyna said the issue would be manpower. She said there wouldn’t be enough faculty members available to assist and the University would have to get administrators at each ceremony. Reyna said the University will go to this type of separation in the future with more students and assistance.

Sociology senior Melissa Benavidez asked about raising the graduation fee.

Currently, graduates are charged a $35 fee, which goes to the graduation budget that funds diplomas, diploma covers, venue, decor, and other items. Reyna said she was looking into creating a package with an increased fee to pay for a graduate’s cap and gown and may assist with the facility.

Reyna also asked students whether they would favor an outdoor ceremony, and the majority of the audience raised their hand. She said there would have to be a back up plan in case of rain, adding that she didn’t think students would mind the backup facility being a high school.

In the end, Reyna said moving to one annual ceremony will not be taken off the table. She said she would recommend having one annual ceremony that will start with incoming students in fall 2014. But she added that by that time, the University may be too big for one ceremony.

SGA President Zaira Rodriguez also announced that SGA will be meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in Room 339 of Main Campus for the remainder of the semester.

About the Author

Melody Mendoza
Melody Mendoza is the Comunidad Editor for The Mesquite. Previously, she reported on the development of the year-old Main Campus Building and Brooks City-Base Campus, and has followed Texas A&M-San Antonio's growth through its plans for two new buildings. Melody is a communication-journalism major, serves on the Student Media Board and is a freelance reporter and part-time editorial assistant for the San Antonio Express-News. She is a 2008 East Central High School graduate, an award-winning reporter for The Ranger (San Antonio College's student newspaper), and a youth leader at her church.

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