Commencement changes, speakers still a mystery

By Joe Klein

Even though the first semester is not yet over, plans are underway for the two large events that always bookend the year—next spring’s commencement and the coming fall’s convocation. The Academic Prizes and Awards Ceremony typically held the Friday before commencement will be eliminated. In the past, the ceremony featured all academic departments awarding respective honors and awards to students they chose to recognize. Conversations with department coordinators and department chairs revealed that many departments had concerns about the impersonal, stale nature of the program. The ceremony consisted mostly of reading the names of award winners as well as a description of the prize they were awarded. At last year’s ceremony, 183 seniors were recognized. “There was a feeling that it wasn’t meaningful,” said Director of Academic Programs Ann Minnick. “It seemed that it needed some attention.” In place of the ceremony, departments will now have the option to recognize students at departmental receptions or luncheons that typically occur at the end of the year. This creates a more personal setting for awards to be given. This also gives departments more freedom for when and where they want to recognize their commended students, said Minnick. Seniors who receive academic awards will now be invited to a luncheon with Honors Project students, and the names of award winners will be listed in the commencement program, ensuring that they receive school-wide recognition. “We feel like if we have these recognitions in different ways and different configurations, it might be more meaningful than it has been,” said Minnick. After exploring various changes to the program with department coordinators, such as featuring more of a multimedia presence and making the ceremony more engaging and interactive, Minnick and the departments agreed to cancel the ceremony for this year. If the new format does not work as planned, they will explore further changes for the following year including a possible return to the awards ceremony of the past. The Academic Prizes and Awards Ceremony, formerly known as the Honors Commencement, has existed in its current form for roughly 20 years, so this new format will end a well-established tradition at Macalester. There was very little opposition to experimenting with this new format, according to Minnick. The commencement will hopefully have two speakers, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre. Their names will likely be revealed to the school at the beginning of next semester. One of the speakers has been confirmed, while the other has not yet verified their participation. This year’s opening convocation, which featured Representative Betty McCollum and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, suffered from poor turnout among students. To combat the lack of interest, the administration began identifying possible changes to the program. A small committee of faculty members, students, and representatives from the President’s Office has been formed, and will brainstorm ideas over the next few months to increase attendance at next year’s convocation. “We’re exploring how we might build [convocation] into a tradition,” said Hamre. “Do we use it to welcome the first years to campus? Do we have a major speaker? Do we tie it into a theme with the International Roundtable or other things happening on campus, such as the first-year book, so that there’s an automatic sense of why it might be of interest to people?” refresh –>