Fall semester graduates – Going out without a bang

Kristin Bergmann, Opinions Editor

The fall semester is coming to an end, and for some CSUSM students, this marks the end of their studies. According to the Office of the Registrar, between 1,300 and 1,500 students are expected to graduate in December 2022. Unfortunately, they won’t get a proper goodbye. No cheering crowds, no walking, no stage, no turning tassels. CSUSM only holds commencement ceremonies in spring of each year, leaving the fall graduates no other choice than wait 5 months – or not walk at all. Many students I talked to are disappointed that there is no official end to their studies and no formal celebration of four (or more) years of hard work. Being a fall 2022 graduate myself, I started wondering, “why is that?” – and decided to ask the responsible department.

According to the CSUSM Commencement Office staff, the office “has been looking into hosting a Fall commencement ceremony for quite some time now”. They explained that there are two major factors that play into the planning process. First, finding a suitable date for the ceremony is challenging due to the holidays. Second, because of unpredictable weather, the Commencement Office is looking for an indoor venue big enough to accommodate graduates, guests, vendors, and volunteers. Despite these challenges, the Commencement Office states that they have been meeting with stakeholders and campus partners to figure out how to make a fall commencement ceremony work. The Commencement Office further explained that in a survey among fall 2021 graduates, the overwhelming majority favored a spring ceremony. Despite the survey results, the Commencement Office says that they hope to offer a fall ceremony in the future to “recognize and honor all graduates for their hard work and achievements.”

I was surprised by the survey results. Many of the fall 2022 graduates I know personally would like to have a fall commencement ceremony. I decided to ask around the school to see what other students think. Lex, a fifth-year Psychology major, is disappointed that there is no fall commencement ceremony. For her, the Spring ceremony is inconvenient because she is moving to Texas for graduate school next year. “I would love to be a part of the hoopla, but I won’t be here and I don’t really know if I want to come back for this.” Nicole, a Media Studies major from Illinois and fellow fall 2022 graduate, says, “I definitely would want a fall commencement because it is hard for out-of-state students to have to come back for a commencement almost 6 months later”. Maya, a Communication major, says, “of course I wish there was [a fall commencement ceremony]!” Everyone I asked said the same thing: fall commencement please!

A possible reason for the contradicting results of the 2021 survey is the Covid-19 pandemic. Fall 2021 was the first semester fully back on campus, but there were still several restrictions in place. It is possible that fall 2021 graduates preferred a spring ceremony because they hoped that COVID restrictions would be lifted by then, making the ceremony more fun. This fall, masking requirements and other restrictions are gone, and technically, nothing would stand in the way of a full-capacity fall ceremony. This may explain why this year, many graduates seem to wish for a fall graduation.

I am 100% with them.

First of all, feelings of accomplishment and pride are usually strongest right after an event. You worked hard, and you finally get to reap what you sowed. But if half a year has passed, that feeling has washed over. Sure, it’s still nice to celebrate prior achievements, but graduating college should be more than just “nice”. It’s a big deal. Years of hard work, mental breakdowns, mean professors and lazy partners in group projects – we’ve all been there and we made it through. That deserves a proper celebration. Most students will – hopefully – have a job by next spring, and after being out there in the “real world” for a few months, do we really want to go back to school just to walk, shake hands and smile for a picture? Another issue is that having the commencement ceremony in spring makes it more difficult for graduates from former semesters to attend and get the recognition they deserve. As the small survey I conducted shows, many people move to a different city or state after graduation to start a new job or go to graduate school. International students might even be back in their home countries. Therefore, many fall graduates might not be able to attend the spring commencement ceremony because it’s logistically impossible – unless they spend a lot of money on flight tickets to attend a 2-hour ceremony.

Now, it would be easy to say, “that’s just the way it is” and commencement ceremonies just happen to be a spring thing. However, that is not true for every school. For example, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo hosts a fall commencement ceremony every year. So does Cal State Bakersfield. Outside the Cal State system, even more universities have annual fall and spring ceremonies, honoring graduates from both semesters. However, the statements of the CSUSM Commencement Office spark hope that next year, fall 2023 graduates will be able to walk and turn their tassels in celebration of their achievements.