Photo courtesy of the University of the South Flickr.
by Robert Beeland
After receiving approval from the Student Government Association (SGA), the University plans to begin conferring degrees to graduating seniors on the Quad beginning in May 2018. While much of the ceremony will continue to be performed in All Saints’ Chapel, the awarding of diplomas will occur on the Quad, where a tented area will be able to accommodate all students and their family members.
Instead of the previous years’ procedure, which involved graduating seniors leaving All Saints’ during the ceremony to meet family members outside before returning inside to receive their degrees, the entire degree conferral process will occur on the Quad this upcoming May. The decision was made, according to Vice-Chancellor McCardell, “to allow everyone to participate in a single place, to speed up the process, and at the same time to do it in a way that is appropriately dignified and Sewanee-specific.”
According to University Marshal Pamela Macfie, the ceremony will consist of, like in years prior “an academic procession of faculty, administrators, clergy, and students into All Saints’.” From there, Macfie continued, “the Chancellor will be in his ordinary position, the Latin will be pronounced… then, the class will be organized in alphabetical order and they will exit the chapel and go out onto the Quad, and on the Quad there should be ample seating for everyone.”
By moving this portion of the ceremony to the Quad, the University hopes to allow more students’ family members and friends to view the awarding of diplomas firsthand, rather than in a variety of satellite locations, which have previously included McClurg Dining Hall and Guerry Auditorium.
Additionally, the University envisions that, by conferring degrees on the Quad, the entire ceremony will be maintained at an appropriate length. “Just given the configuration of the chapel and the need to navigate those steps [in All Saints’ Chapel] up and back, it took us probably three hours to read 400 names last May. And I think that just made everybody, including the seniors, a little antsy by the time we got down toward the end,” McCardell remarked.
McCardell added that this logistical decision was made “not in any way to alter the dignity or the distinctiveness of Commencement as Sewanee has long observed it, and that means to keep the most important aspect of Commencement where it has always been: in All Saints’ Chapel.”
Furthermore, McCardell explained that the decision was not made directly in response to increased enrollment. “It has been a long time, probably not within the lifetime of anyone currently working at the University, when all the seniors and all their families were able to be accommodated in the Chapel… we could have kept doing it the way we’ve been doing it for another 400 students, before we had to worry about enrollment as a factor,” he explained.
“Finally, because it’s the sesquicentennial year,” McCardell added, “to start what may or may not become a new tradition seemed to be appropriate… if we’re going to make a change, it seems to me, what matters is what the seniors think. And if the seniors think this is worth doing—and my impression is that they do, or at least their elected representatives do—then I’m serene.”