By Joseph Pratt
Shawnee State University (SSU) announced this week that, due to flooding and water saturation on the alumni green caused by this week’s rain, it will implement its Inclement Weather Plan for this Saturday’s Commencement and move the ceremony indoors to the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts. At least part of their reasoning was the desire not to damage new sod, and this has many graduating students upset.
The plan calls for two separate ceremonies in order to accommodate the 579 graduates participating in commencement and their guests, with the first including graduates whose last names begin with letters A-K to be held at 10 a.m., and the second for graduates with last names beginning with L-Z to be held at 2 p.m. Graduates have received three tickets for guests to attend the ceremony in the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts. Additional guests may view the ceremony on monitors in the Flohr Lecture Hall in the Clark Memorial Library and in the Sodexo Ballroom in the University Center.
Both ceremonies will also be streamed live through a link on the University’s website at www.shawnee.edu.
“We developed an Inclement Weather Plan a few years ago and go through the ticket procedures with graduates during their rehearsals and preparations, so they are familiar with the process,” Dr. Dave Todt, SSU Provost, said. “We always enjoy having our ceremony outdoors so that students can all be together and we aren’t as limited in space, but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate. With the two additional viewing areas and the live stream, we hope to be able to accommodate everyone who wants to watch our commencement ceremonies and participate in celebrating our spring Class of 2014.”
Todt said the saturated grounds could cause chairs to sink into the soil and damage the newly installed sod.
After the campus notified the student body of the change, students became unsettled by the situation for a few different reasons. Some were upset that the graduation was going to be split into two separate ceremonies and friends wouldn’t get to graduate together, others were upset that the new sod was coming before student interest and others were upset about the restriction on the amount of guests that the graduating students are allowed to have present, due to the capacity of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts.
Students have responded by e-mailing school officials, circulating petitions, holding protests and taking to social media in Facebook groups and Twitter hash tags such as #studentsbeforesod.
Soon-to-be SSU graduate Isaiah Riley is very active on campus, having been a resident adviser, a student success center attendant and a co-chair of special events with the Student Programming Board. He has responded heavily on social media and recently e-mailed Todt.
“Shawnee State announced today that graduation will be held indoors Saturday morning - not on the newly anticipated million dollar outdoor complex - citing ‘flooding.’ Hundreds of students feel the school is not being 100% transparent by moving indoors so soon when the next 3 days of weather forecast show 70 degrees/sunny - giving ample time for grounds to dry before graduation,” Riley said, concerning the graduation situation.
Todt did respond to Riley concerning his email.
Todt wrote, “We know that our students prefer the outside ceremony and that is always our first choice for our spring commencement. We have to make the decision whether or not conditions will allow us to have it outdoors early enough each year to make necessary alternate arrangements. While it may not rain on Saturday, this week’s rain has saturated the new sod on the Alumni Green to the point where setting chairs up on the soggy ground will cause issues. We determined to implement our alternate plan early enough for graduates and their families – as well as facilities crews – to make arrangements.”
Todt also said that while no one is excited about moving spring graduation to the Vern Riffe Center, he sees no issues with it, because they’ve held fall graduations at the venue for four years.
“As 2014-2015 Student Government president, it’s really uplifting to see everybody coming together to make a stand against this shortsighted decision,” Zack Burton, student government president, said. “Remember to stay civil! The construction is definitely complete; please don’t make any accusations regarding that, especially at any official meetings. #StudentsBeforeSod and #GoBears!”
Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, EXT 287, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.