HARRINGTON: Choose option one
The best option for Final Exercises is to keep all graduates together on the Lawn and limit everyone to two tickets
As Final Exercises do not bestow diplomas, what is their purpose at the University? A purely symbolic one. Therefore, when filling out the survey of how graduation should be altered during Rotunda renovations, we should choose the option that best maintains the symbolism that makes Final Exercises worthwhile. We should elect to preserve graduation on the Lawn and keep all graduates together by voting for option one: “Stay on the Lawn, Sharply Limit the Number of Guests.”
The Lawn holds a special significance for many University students, particularly because we expect to graduate there. At Convocation, before we had attended a single class, each undergraduate present at the University sat on the Lawn facing the Rotunda to signify our entrance to the University, which would be contrasted with our facing away from the Rotunda upon our departure. We had no reason to doubt this tradition, as students have graduated on the Lawn since 1953.
Beyond mere tradition, Final Exercises on the Lawn have strong symbolism because the Lawn — not a sports arena — is located at the heart of the academic center of the University. Therefore, this location emphasizes that the true University experience and source of school pride is primarily academic and only secondarily athletic. Many universities currently hold graduations that, like option three, are at football stadiums with unlimited guests allowed: Virginia Tech, James Madison University and the University of North Carolina are three. Switching venues for Final Exercises would displace the unique demonstration of academic pride with a less meaningful athletic one; and, as one user on Yik Yak crudely stated, “No one wants to be reminded of our s***** football team on our last day on grounds.”
I appreciate that option three includes “walking the lawn” in its plan, but this inclusion does not accurately uphold tradition and is, moreover, impractical. Walking the Lawn is not equal to graduating on the Lawn, as the time spent processing through a quarter mile of Lawn en route to Scott Stadium is easily dwarfed by the duration of the traipse across Grounds and the ceremony itself. The approximately ¾ mile distance between the Lawn and Scott Stadium is also problematic. Particularly for women in heels, the walk in the sun would likely be more of a burden than the “march” it is intended to be.
There is also value in everyone’s graduating together, especially for undergraduate students. These students collectively signed the Honor pledge at Convocation, lived in first year dorms and witnessed the President Sullivan scandal. Many of the students who would graduate separately from the College in Option Two spent two years in the College before being admitted to the McIntire School of Commerce or the Batten School. As diploma ceremonies are already separate, a communal graduation is necessary for Final Exercises to demonstrate University unity. This need to prove that the University is greater than a collection of schools is becoming even more important as class sizes expand and more programs, such as the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy in 2007, are added.
In order to maintain the Lawn location and the graduating class unity, option one requires compromises. It reduces the number of tickets students receive from three to two and eliminates the opportunity for other spectators to stand in roped-off sections of North Lawn. Instead, guests beyond those two with tickets would watch a live-stream of the ceremony from indoor viewing locations across Grounds. When one considers how these changes would affect the average student, they are not too troublesome. For many, the two tickets on the Lawn will go to the student’s two parents. For others, they will go towards the student’s choice of among their parents and stepparents, an awkward decision already with the existing three tickets. Extended family will be relegated to viewing centers, which I see as a minor issue. Graduation is an honor earned by the student; therefore it is not selfish for students to choose the best experience for themselves rather than for others. Any students comfortable with extending Final Exercises from two and a half hours to three and a half should choose Option One to give themselves this best experience. Family and friends can wait until dinner or diploma ceremonies to congratulate their graduate; in fact, this change may save them from the confined spaces, reduced bathroom access and poor views in the standing room only sections of the Lawn.
Expanding class sizes will continue to make graduating on the Lawn seem unfeasible. Therefore, it is important for even the Class of 2017 to choose Option One and show President Teresa Sullivan we are willing to make accommodations so that we can maintain the symbolism of our Final Exercises. The Rotunda renovation project gives the unique chance for the University to demonstrate that we can safely continue to graduate on the Lawn with reduced space before greater change becomes urgent. It would be foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity.
Elaine Harrington is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.