October 30, 2009

New, shorter format for 2010 convocation

Convocation will be held as a daylong, campus-wide ceremony on the main quad this spring, the University announced yesterday. A unified event for all graduating students will be followed by a number of smaller diploma ceremonies for various divisions of the University.

In the past, convocation was held as a series of four sessions over three days.

Zimmer will now confer degrees on all candidates during the ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 12, 2010.

College students will receive their diplomas from Zimmer individually, according to past tradition, in one of the smaller ceremonies, and students of other divisions will receive their diplomas from their dean. Though all students used to graduate on the same day, the University’s expansion over the years has made it impractical to have such a large ceremony in Rockefeller, leading to the current system, University spokesman Jeremy Manier said. But convocations have been conducted on the quad in recent years, Manier added, making a unified event possible.

The University described the change as a return to the original convocation ceremony as established by the school’s first president, William Rainey Harper. “The new format returns to the original ideas of the convocation, where it was going to be a unifying event,” Manier said.

Fourth-year Liliana Zaragosa is a University marshal–she will assist at convocation and other large events, an honor conferred on students for their academic standing in the University. Zaragosa said she felt the new format might only increase practical difficulties.

“If everybody had to graduate together, it would necessitate a lot more people to be working on this,” she said. “Are they going to give more awards as marshals?”

Jessica Moths, also a fourth-year marshal, described it as a “logistical nightmare,” but said she thinks the University, with enough planning, can make the event successful. “I think that as long as they plan ahead, things should go pretty well,” she said.

Some logistical issues could be exacerbated by the change, as well. Zaragosa said the College’s convocation last spring was plagued by rain and took over an hour to seat people. She also said parking was already problematic with the events spread out over three days.

The University is beginning to address problems like these; representatives from the schools and divisions will give feedback to ensure a smooth transition. Some decisions regarding the new format have already been made. Outdoor seating on the main quad will provide enough seats for Ph.D. candidates to have multiple guests, while large-screen monitors will make viewing easier. The stage will be on University Avenue and East 58th Street.

How the divisions of the University will be subdivided has yet to be decided, but it is likely it will be similar to the past division of ceremonies, Manier said. The College and the Booth School each had their own convocation, while the Harris School, Law School, and the School of Social Service Administration had one convocation, as did the Graduate Divisions, Pritzker School of Medicine, and the Divinity School.

“A ceremony at the end of spring quarter that brings the University together as one restores an essential element of what convocation at the University of Chicago is meant to achieve,” Zimmer said in a press release.

Sinces plans are still being finalized, Manier said its too early to tell how much money the University stands to save, if any, from the new plan. "Most likely there will be some trade-off. The University will save some money by not spreading events over three days, and that will be offset somewhat by the cost of mounting one large event," he said