University should have done more for Class of 2015’s commencement

Lauren Ferguson

This year, sadness marked the University of Texas’ graduation as UT canceled commencement, one of its most meaningful traditions, for the first time in history. The event celebrates the end of a graduate’s time at the University as the president confers degrees upon the students.

For graduates, it is the shining end to their time at the University. Many of them aired their grievances in response to the cancellation.

“I’ve been waiting four years for this ceremony,” said Darice Chavira, who graduated with a degree in journalism, in a tweet. “Heartbroken would be an understatement.”

The University canceled commencement for the Class of 2015 because of tornado warnings, high winds and flash flood warnings. University officials said that they acted in order to protect the safety of the students and their families.

“We made every effort to stage the 2015 commencement as planned,” President William Powers Jr. said in a statement. “We are very disappointed that we cannot proceed under this evening’s severe weather conditions.”

Following the cancellation, the Class of 2015 organized their own commencement. The now-famous event exceeded expectations as more than 1,000 people attended, the musical guest Interobang performed, and Powers conferred degrees upon the students. The moment was a special testimony to the resilience, strength and pride of the Class of 2015.

However, commencement never should have come to that. The University made the correct decision in cancelling graduation because of the tornado and flash flood warnings, but the school disrespected its graduates by not having a backup plan for one of the most important ceremonies at UT.

“University officials knew that rain could be in the forecast and spent several weeks exploring potential backup plans for the 2015 commencement,” UT spokesperson Gary Susswein said. “Given the size and complexity of commencement, it is nearly impossible logistically to simultaneously plan two events — one indoors and one outdoors.”

Some students called for an indoor ceremony specifically at the Frank Erwin Center, the only potential venue near the University that could hold the large crowd expected for commencement. However, university officials deemed the location unsafe. “With the ongoing construction and lack of parking around the Erwin Center, there was no way to safely hold the full University commencement there as a backup plan,” Susswein said.

It is understandable that there was no potential indoor location for safe-day commencement. But there were other options. It was irresponsible that there was no potential reschedule date with rain in the forecast weeks ahead of commencement, and it was disrespectful that the University has yet to apologize for its lack of planning. The lack of any kind of backup plan was flippant and thoughtless.

The Class of 2015 proved that the University of Texas fosters some of the strongest school spirit in the nation. But students, after spending thousands of dollars to attend, should not be shorted a commencement or forced to plan their own. The University failed its graduating class. And no, a discounted Texas Exes membership won’t make up for that.

Ferguson is an English and art history junior from Austin. Follow Ferguson on Twitter @LaurenFerg2.