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Several Students Disappointed by Winter “Graduation”

Several students questioned the respect shown to this year’s 97 winter graduates, after December’s reception left many disappointed.

Complaints centered around four key issues. The event, sponsored by the Alumnae Association of Mills College, took place on Dec. 5, shortly before classes ended, meaning students were still working on final projects; no one could locate guest speaker Ajuan Mance; students’ majors were not announced when their name was; and President Janet Holmgren repeatedly referred to the day as a “practice” for the spring commencement ceremony.

Speaking for AAMC organizers, AAMC Executive Director Anne Gillespie-Brown said, “We were certainly saddened this last time that there was distress. The purpose of our doing this event is to honor the students,” and said it was hard for the organizers and volunteers who worked on the event to hear about the disappointment.

The Alumnae Student Relations Committee that organizes the event “has always struggled with when to have it,” Gillespie-Brown said, and it is usually scheduled for the last Sunday of the semester. “We know it’s really not the optimum time,” she said.

But by the Sunday after classes end, many graduates have already left campus, and the week before the usual day is Thanksgiving, leaving the option of the week before Thanksgiving, which before seemed too early, Gillespie-Brown said, but which the AAMC is now considering after numerous responses about the timing of the event.

Mance told The Weekly she was sorry for missing the event and was unable to attend to the event due to debilitating symptoms of an existing medical condition. She left her phonebook at home, she said, and was therefore unable to contact anyone that morning to alert them to her absence. She also apologized in a post to student-news,after several students expressed concerns that she may have been in an accident.

But aside from Mance’s absence, the program was similar to years past. Graduates’ majors have not been read in the past, to which Gillespie-Brown said, “Honestly, we never thought to ask [the M Center] for that. No one’s ever complained about that before.”

The AAMC has since contacted the registrar’s office about obtaining the list of majors degrees for the future.

“We don’t really have a winter graduation,” Holmgren said. “As much as I respect the cycles for our students, as a small institution we ought not to be trying to replicate commencement.”

“I’d like to work with the student body to think about how we can improve this,” she said, acknowledging that “the volunteers who put this together really work very hard on it.”

Saying much of her speech was ad-lib, Holmgren said she tried to foreshadow the spring commencement, “to give them a flavor of May.”

Though she wasn’t sure how to resolve challenges around the timing, she said combining it with the Senior Pin dinner might be another possibility.

In an e-mail obtained by The Weekly, acting Dean of Students Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle wrote, “While it may not be suitable or desirable to have an actual winter graduation – I don’t know of many institutions, particularly of this size, that do that – there is always an opportunity to improve and build upon the established traditions.”

Gillespie-Brown was scheduled to meet with Hernandez-Gravelle on Wednesday, after The Weekly went to print, to discuss what can be done to improve the event for students in the future.

Recent graduate Sara Bond said, “It was kind of irritating that my whole family came up from L.A. for this and the president kept stressing that it was just a practice.”

Students are welcome to walk in the spring ceremony, but many leave the area when classes finish, and can’t return for various reasons.

“A third of the class graduated in the winter,” Senior Council member Kasey Lindsay said. The senior class budget can’t cover the cost of a ceremony, she said, but more should be done by students and administrators alike.

Tessa Robinette, a senior scheduled to graduate next winter, said she hopes improvements are made before then. Winter graduates are usually resumers, she said, and “even if it’s not as fancy or well-attended, just have it after classes end, and let everyone know that it’s a serious recognition of their accomplishments, like reading off their majors.