USC students angered by decision to cancel August commencement

The University of South Carolina has announced plans to cancel the August 2016 commencement ceremony, and the decision has upset some current students.

89-year-old Dan Brown was among the August 2015 commencement ceremony graduates (photo by Allen Wallace)

Dan Brown, 89, was among the August 2015 commencement ceremony graduates. (photo by Allen Wallace)

USC spokesman Wes Hickman said the university will eliminate the August ceremony and hold commencements only in May and December in 2016. Those who complete coursework over the summer will have to wait until December to take part in a commencement ceremony.

Hickman, in a statement published on the school’s website, said “the decision follows several years of declining interest in the August ceremony among graduating students and participation rates well below 50 percent of eligible graduates.”

USC awarded more than 1,500 degrees at last August’s commencement ceremony, with South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal serving as the commencement speaker.

Hickman said the change also will “encourage students graduating on a four-year track to complete graduation requirements in time for the May ceremony, rather than assuming the additional cost of an extra summer term.”

Past and present students, however, said it is not always that simple.

“When I was a freshman I was prepared to devote four and a half years to my degree as a sport and entertainment major at the University of South Carolina,” said senior Kara Hoffman. “My adviser told me to ‘assume the additional cost of an extra term’ as part of my major.”

Senior Vicky Gutridge agreed.

“I’m a senior SPTE (sports and entertainment management) major, and the SPTE program requires 127 credit hours,” she said. Most majors require 121 credit hours. “We are required to complete two internships to graduate. When I came to freshman orientation, they told us ‘Hi, welcome to SPTE. USC loves to tell students they will graduate in 4 years, but most of you in this room will not. You’re in a four-and-a-half-year program, so expect to graduate in August 2016.'”

Hickman said the move to eliminate August commencement follows the lead of other universities in the SEC and around the country.

South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal addressing graduates at the August 2015 ceremony (photo by Allen Wallace)

South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal addresses graduates at the August 2015 ceremony. (photo by Allen Wallace)

But Hoffman said USC officials shouldn’t do things just because other schools do.

“I know it happens at other schools, I know it isn’t out of the norm, but USC isn’t other schools,” she said. “USC isn’t the norm. So my question is this: Why this year?”

Hoffman and others suggested USC give students more notice, making the move effective in 2017 or later, giving students more time to adjust.

“I’m excited to walk at commencement; I’m excited to move my tassel from right to left, and most of all I’m excited to celebrate with the friends and family that were with me every step of the way,” Hoffman said. “I wouldn’t want to wait four months to have that experience after working so hard for the last four years. The situation that USC has put its August 2016 graduates in is an outrageous one.”

“I really think that if USC wanted to do this, they should have implemented it with next year’s incoming freshman class, that way that everyone who has already started their degree isn’t put at a disadvantage,” Gutridge said. “I also feel that USC didn’t consider all of their programs, because the SPTE curriculum probably needs to be changed to accommodate this change. Overall, I’m just really upset because I am sitting in class right now with 25 SPTE students and the majority of them will no longer be able to walk across the stage a few weeks after they finish their course work.”

Hickman said the change “will help ensure all graduates receive the superior commencement experience they deserve.”

Alumna Kelly Ballance, who graduated in August this year, said she did not think her experience was inferior.

“I get that it’s not as good a graduation as May, but I thought mine was fine this year,” she said.

Hickman said USC officials will “collect feedback and track participation in ceremonies before making a final determination about the 2017 commencement calendar.” That means future classes might again walk in August, but Gutridge said that does not help this year’s seniors.

“So many of my classmates, who have become my friends over the course of the past three and a half years, are now not able to have a graduation ceremony even though we have all worked incredibly hard over the past 7 semesters,” she said.

Hickman did not reply Wednesday to requests from Cola Daily to respond to the students’ concerns or to elaborate on the reasons for the change. He also did not release attendance figures in support of his statement regarding lack of participation in August ceremonies.

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