By Dan Bristol
Through a decisive vote last week, the Classes of 2018 decided to make this year’s commencement ceremony on May 13th a joint ceremony with Hobart and William Smith students sitting and graduating together. This marks the second year in a row that students from both schools will be seated together, returning to a graduation arrangement more familiar to President Vincent ’83 and his peers from the 70s and 80s.
“Prior to 1972, students were seated in alphabetical order separated by college. The Class of 1972 decided that they wanted a different scenario. They wanted to receive their diplomas from each other instead of from the administration. That was the first of about a 10-year stretch where students sat with friends (HWS mixed together – though in a pre-arranged and approved order), and handed diplomas to each other. (It was a fairly chaotic system but they somehow made it work…). In the early 1980’s they brought back the tradition of processing by college, side-by-side and graduating in alphabetical order, by college. Each year they alternated which college would go first. That tradition was upheld for about 34 years,” according to Associate Vice President for Advancement Kathy Regan ’82.
In 2016, the Student Trustees began hosting “Coordinate Conversations” and then inviting seniors to vote for their seating preference. In the first vote in 2016 students opted to sit separately, but in 2017 and now again in 2018 the vote was in favor of all students processing and sitting together in alphabetical order. They will receive their diplomas together alphabetically, not alphabetically by colleges.
As in previous years the commencement seating decision featured several discussions where students voiced a variety of opinions for why they support one seating arrangement over the other. For insight into the various views and rationales, the Herald has published op-ed pieces by several members of the Hobart and William Smith honors societies on page 12 of this edition.
Despite the outpouring of support for both options, the vote was by most measures not close. According to Director of Student Activities Kristen Tobey, 224 seniors voted (making turnout for this race higher than the school wide election of the executive boards of HSG and WSC). 166 voted for joint seating, 61 voted for separate seating, and 17 voted that they had no preference.
In a statement Hobart Student Trustee Tyler Fuller said, “The ‘Coordinate Conversations’ this year prompted great conversation from both Hobart and William Smith students from a wide variety of class years. As Student Trustees, we have attempted to remain impartial throughout the process but are happy that a large amount of students were able to get the graduation seating that they desired.”
The decision this year only affects the commencement ceremony for the classes of 2018, and future classes will likely have the opportunity to make the decision for themselves.