By Kristen Griffith (Whetstone Staff Writer)
President Robert Clark changed the date of this semester’s spring graduation – and then he changed it back again after many seniors and their families protested the late change.
Clark announced the initial change – from Saturday, May 7, to Thursday, May 5 – on Feb. 18 because, he said, the date fell on Dover Days and Delaware State University’s graduation.
Dr. Jeffrey Gibson, interim vice president of academic affairs, said the date was originally changed because it was the same day as Dover Days and Delaware State University’s graduation. He said moving graduation will ensure hotel and restaurant access for the graduate’s families.
He said DSU gave no warning when they changed the date of their commencement ceremony. Their spring graduation usually happens on a Sunday. Their seniors walked across the stage last year on Sunday, May 17.
Right after the Feb. 18 announcement, Samantha Misner, vice president of the student government association, created a petition for students to sign in hopes to change graduation back to its original date.
“What led me to create the petition was the students I saw on my [Twitter] timeline – upset, confused and frustrated,” she said.
Misner said the weekend commencement was a tradition for students and alumni.
“Many undergraduates and alumni come back to Wesley to celebrate their friend’s accomplishments,” she said. “If our friends, alumni and family weren’t here it just wouldn’t be the same.”
She said the petition received 250 signatures from students, alumni and parents who didn’t agree with the rescheduling.
Clark changed the date back after students voiced their concerns at the open forum he hosted. About 30 seniors attended the open forum in room 7 of Cannon Hall Feb. 19.
Clark stood in the front of the room explaining the influence of the date change.
“I talked to parents and students, but not everyone,” he said. “After a lot of discussion, [graduation] was moved to Thursday.”
Clark said he was the only one who made the decision to change the date.
“I messed this one up,” he said.
Senior Glenn Aruta said he was outraged after discovering the date of graduation changed from a Saturday to a Thursday.
“Graduation is always on a Saturday,” he said. “I have a lot of friends who are coming from other schools and they can’t come on Thursdays, that’s a school day.
Aruta said he was angry when he found out DSU’s graduation influenced the rescheduling.
“Dover hosts Firefly every year,” he said. “If Dover can cater to 80,000 people, they can handle two college graduations.”
Senior Amber Roddy also said she was upset after hearing DSU’s commencement was part of the problem.
“It’s not fair that we have to change our date because DSU had to change theirs,” she said. “That isn’t really our problem, to be honest.”
Roddy said having the ceremony at 4 p.m. on Thursday would make everything feel rushed.
“Especially seeing and taking pictures with my family and friends afterward because they would have to leave shortly after in order to make it home before dark,” she said.
She said she was also upset for the families who live further away and made reservations ahead of time.
Aruta said he knows Clark was trying to do the right thing but he was misguided.
“Without consulting the students about it first, that was the mistake he made,” he said. “But he’s a human, we all make mistakes.”
Aruta said he liked the fact the forum was held the day after.
“If we let it fester for a couple days it would have gotten worse,” he said. “And I liked how open and inviting he was for the students to share their opinions.”
Aruta said the senior’s opinions in the forum is what led to graduation going back to its original date.
“It was a chance for Wesley to really showcase that ‘we do listen to our students if we have an issue,’” he said.
Senior Damyra Price said the open forum went great.
“We got to voice our opinion and have feedback,” she said. “The president is very open to talking things out and I appreciate that.”
Roddy said Clark handled the situation well.
“As soon as he started to receive a large amount of feedback from the student body and their families, he not only held an open forum immediately but he also gave a resolution,” she said.
Misner said she’s glad the students witnessed the power their opinions hold.
“We have a voice, and that voice matters,” she said.