Next Friday on May 20, the graduating students of New College’s 2012 cohort will walk across the stage at the bayfront campus in front of their family, friends, peers and faculty marking the transition from student to alum. While some of the logistics of the ceremony have changed throughout the years, its significance – and noticeable lack of traditional cap and gowns – has remained the same.
As the culminating event of their time at New College many graduating students anticipate the commencement ceremony with a bitter-sweet concoction of excitement, loss and nostalgia.
“I’m sad to be leaving the incredible people I have met here, and I can’t stop thinking about all the memories that I’ve shared with others during my time here,” thesis student Clifford Lundin said, adding, “It’s been an adventure, and I’m getting more excited about everything that the future holds.”
“I’m so excited to get the hell out of here, but I also am going to miss everyone,” thesis student Loureen Sayej said. “It’s going to feel weird not to study.”
The ceremony, which costs around $40,000 in total, will be celebrating the graduation of close to 190 students who will have completed at least the equivalent of 7 contracts, 3 Independent Study Projects and successfully written and defended their theses. Yet, the commencement ceremony celebrates so much more than just the completion of these academic requirements. As last year’s student graduation speaker Cassandra Corrado (‘11) pointed out in her speech, New College tends to live up to its reputation as a college that changes lives. Just as NCF changes its students, students change NCF and its community, and the class of 2016 has left its mark on New College.
This year’s student speaker has yet to be chosen, but there were 17 nominees. “I’m asking the nominated student speakers to email me a paragraph about what they want to talk about and then a survey will be sent for the final decision,” thesis student Anna Rodriguez, a member of the Student Commencement Committee, said.
While a survey is usually sent out at the beginning of a cohort’s third year seeking student and faculty nominations for the keynote commencement speaker, no such survey was sent out for the class of 2016.
“Donal just picked someone,” Rodriguez said. “Within a year it’s hard to get a speaker unless you have at least two years to contact and organize. So I understand that by the time anyone thought about it it was too late basically.”
Charlayne Hunter-Gault was chosen to be this year’s Commencement speaker. Hunter-Gault was the author of this year’s first-year book and was a pioneer in the American Civil Rights movement as one of the first two black students to enroll at the University of Georgia. She went on to become an award-winning journalist for The New York Times, NPR and CNN. President O’Shea will be presenting Hunter-Gault with the honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
In the past, New College has requested and been turned down by dozens of potential speakers. In 1981 a call was sent out for nominations. The letter warned students that with a $1,500 budget, “Bruce Springsteen, Michel Foucault and Walter Cronkite [were] thus not realistic possibilities.” That year both President Ronald Reagan and Noam Chomsky were sent request letters. They both kindly sent back rejection letters.
During the 1960s and ‘70s the Commencement ceremony was held inside Hamilton Center. In the early ‘80s, alternative locations were scouted and the school was quoted $750 to use the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Referred to as the “purple cow” by students, the Van Wezel was never used.
Today the Commencement ceremony takes place under a large white tent set up behind College Hall as the sun sets over the bay. While the location has changed, students still have traded in the traditional caps and gowns for their own look. Some dress in costume, while others wear a nice suit or dress, a couple choose to wear almost nothing at all.
In an email interview, Shelley Wilbur, the senior administrative assistant in the President’s Office said, “Although encouraging expression, we typically advise students to be considerate of their guests (and family) who are attending, of their professors and the staff, and of themselves 10 years hence.”
Whatever students choose to wear, they will certainly look good as they beg in this next chapter of their lives. Thesis student Raina Senae, who will be wearing a matching set of tropical-print wide leg pants and a crop top, said, “I’m really excited for this year. Not just for myself but people that have stuck it out all four years beside me.”