For the third year in a row, Cal State Long Beach will hold its commencement ceremonies at Angel Stadium, and graduates will not walk across the stage or have their name read aloud—a decision that has received some pushback from students.
While CSULB’s reasoning for this decision is unclear, communication sent to students graduating last year indicated that logistics were largely to blame.
Graduating senior Zeina Elrachid first found out about this year’s commencement ceremony plans around early February—not through university communication, but from other classmates, she said.
At first, Elrachid thought it was exciting to have a commencement at a big arena like Angel Stadium, although she wasn’t initially aware that graduates wouldn’t be walking or having their names called, she said.
“That outraged me,” Elrachid said. “I was definitely very upset to hear that.”
The pandemic has already stripped many students of a traditional college experience, Elrachid said.
“They have no problem giving us 10 to 12 tickets per graduate and packing us into the stadium, so clearly, COVID is not a problem,” Elrachid said. “I don’t understand why they can’t take the extra step and allow us to go back to our traditional commencement.”
Elrachid said she has since received minimal communication from the university regarding the ceremony, and she wishes that officials would be more transparent with students, she said.
“They’re being a little bit shady about it,” she said. “They’re kind of circumventing saying outright that ‘you’re not going to be walking.’”
On March 2, Elrachid created an online petition that has received 2,828 signatures as of March 6.
“This is not the college graduation ceremony that most of us have been envisioning during our years as students,” reads the petition written by Elrachid. “After the immense amount of hard work it requires to earn our degrees, we deserve to be properly recognized.”
While CSULB was unable to provide a specific reason to the Long Beach Post as to why students would not be walking in this year’s ceremony, “We are engaged in thoughtful planning around Commencement year-round and we are always assessing options,” said spokesperson Jim Milbury in an email. “This venue has delivered a great experience for our graduates and their families, especially in light of the growth in the number of graduates over the past few years.”
According to Milbury, during the ceremony, graduates will see their names in the program as well as featured on the Jumbotron during the processional into the stadium.
Apart from the roughly two-hour hour ceremony, each commencement event will also include “Graduate Recognition stages” throughout the Angel Stadium parking lot. Following the ceremony, graduates can pose for photos on the mini-stage in front of a customized slide while their name is announced. Students can trigger their slide and name announcement by scanning their GradPass QR codes, which will be provided prior to the ceremony.
This isn’t the first year that students have pushed back against the university’s commencement ceremony plans.
After last year’s graduating class expressed disappointment regarding the ceremony, the university sent out a survey allowing students to select one of three options: to keep the current commencement ceremonies, to walk across the stage and have their names read aloud or to choose no preference.
Of the 33% of CSULB’s roughly 12,000 eligible graduating seniors who participated in the survey, 2,259 preferred name-reading and stage-walking, 1,851 preferred the existing plans and 220 had no preference between the options.
Despite the survey results, CSULB President Jane Close Conoley announced that the university would move forward with the initial plan, in an email sent to graduating seniors in February 2022, citing “issues especially around logistical realities, staffing availability, and cost.”
“While I understand that many students and families will be disappointed, and I regret that very much, we will take this feedback and work it into our planning for the future,” read the 2022 statement from Conoley.
Later communication from Conoley to students indicated that the university had explored the option of adding a winter ceremony in the Walter Pyramid beginning in January 2023, “prompted by the increasing size and complexity of our May ceremonies and the type of program components – such as the individual reading of graduate names during the formal program – that, ideally, we’d like to be able to offer as our graduate class sizes continue to grow.”
“While we will continue to explore possibilities for future years, a number of logistical considerations, including impacts to our NCAA Division 1 athletics programs, will not allow for us to proceed with Winter ceremonies in the short term,” the email continued.
Milbury confirmed last week that it is unlikely that the university will add winter ceremonies, as those graduating in the fall semester are invited to attend the spring ceremonies, he said.
“We are confident, as in past years, that our graduates, families, and guests will enjoy and appreciate Commencement 2023 and that it will be a rewarding and celebratory capstone to their time as a student,” said Milbury.
Elrachid heard that the class of 2022’s petition received 6,000 to 8,000 signatures, but she hopes this year’s effort will reach 10,000 to 20,000, she said.
“I get that’s a big number, but … if the president rejected the class of 2022, we really need to make a bigger impact among the student body,” Elrachid said.
Elrachid is planning to meet with other students and Vice President of Student Affairs Jeff Klaus next week to discuss potential next steps.
“We think that doing the commencement ceremonies on campus and splitting them up into the smallest amount possible is the best way to go,” Elrachid said. ”We don’t need this huge stadium to pack everybody into it. Honestly, probably a lot of students would prefer a more intimate setting.”
Elrachid said she has friends who will be flying from across the country to watch her graduate, while some classmates have family flying internationally to attend the commencement. Other classmates have said that they will not be attending the ceremony, she said.
“It takes a lot of effort to earn your bachelor’s degree, and I just want to walk across the stage and get my diploma,” Elrachid said. “That’s what I’ve been envisioning my entire four years here as a student. It feels like I’m not really graduating because I’m not getting to do that key part of the ceremony.”
While Elrachid acknowledges that trying to change the university’s mind is “kind of a longshot,” Elrachid hopes that the university will at least reconsider its options for future graduating classes, she said.
“We want to open the door for future graduating classes to walk at their commencement,” Elrachid said. “We know that this is affecting the class of ‘24, ‘25 and ‘26, because if COVID is not the reason, then what is? So we hope that in the future, things will change, if they don’t change for us.”