About 30 students gathered in front of Brotman Hall on the Cal State Long Beach campus today to protest the university’s commencement plans, which for the third year in a row, do not include calling graduates’ names or having them walk across the stage.

Over the past month, students have taken numerous steps to share their concerns about the upcoming graduation with university administration—including creating an online petition, which has garnered 18,221 signatures since early March, and speaking at a Board of Trustees meeting last month.

However, the administration has been largely “dismissive” of students’ concerns, said graduating senior Zeina Elrachid, who created last month’s petition and helped to organize Tuesday’s protest.

“Walking across the stage and hearing your name called is quite literally the defining moment of your graduation,” Elrachid said. “It marks the endpoint of many years of hard work.”

Zeina Elrachid leads chants during a protest of CSULB’s commencement plans on April 4, 2023. Photo by Tess Kazenoff.

According to a March 22 letter sent to graduates by President Jane Close Conoley, logistics are largely to blame. Conoley cited difficulties with planning for the nearly 15,000 eligible graduates.

“Even if it only took five seconds per person to walk across a stage and announce a name, that would equal just under 21 hours of name-reading and stage-walking alone,” wrote Conoley.

By including calling names and walking across the stage, each ceremony could be three-and-a-half to five hours, which—particularly in hot weather—could be potentially unsafe for guests, Conoley continued. Additionally, the letter stated that a ceremony of this length would not allow for the proper “reset” between ceremonies.

By protesting, students hope to convince the administration that their voices matter, said Alaisia Colbert, a political science major with a minor in American Studies, who transferred to CSULB two years ago from El Camino College.

“I hope that this speaks to the administration, and I hope that they start to be a little bit more empathetic, because they’re showing that they’re not,” Colbert said. “It really sucks because a university—or any school—would be nothing without students.”

According to Colbert, the commencement team has been unresponsive, and while the team used to have a phone number, it can now only be contacted through automated emails.

About 30 students protested CSULB’s commencement ceremony plans on April 4, 2023. Photo by Tess Kazenoff.

“This is just a slap in the face,” said Amelie Hernandez, an English literature major in the professional writing certificate program, who moved from the Bay Area to transfer to CSULB.

“I’m a first-generation student, and I’m out here alone trying to do school, and it’s all for nothing, because I can’t even walk across the stage or have my name called,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez hopes that administration can come to a compromise with students, and cut down on the speeches in order to make time for calling names, she said.

“My mom is blind, and I would love it for her to hear my name,” Hernandez added. “She’s not going to be able to hear anything about me during that entire ceremony. … It really means a lot to me.”

Some students, such as Samantha Slater, an English education major, did not have a traditional high school graduation ceremony either, due to the pandemic.

“It’s unfulfilling,” Slater said. “I feel like I kind of did that for nothing, and I paid $100 to get a degree, but nothing else,” she said, referring to the university’s graduate fee.

A Cal State Long Beach spokesperson declined to provide a response to students’ ongoing concerns, apart from a statement sent to the Post on March 3. 

While names will not be called during the ceremony itself, each commencement event will 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, which students can activate by scanning a GradPass QR code. Each student will also be featured on a Jumbotron as they enter the stadium during the processional.

“We are engaged in thoughtful planning around Commencement year-round and we are always assessing options,” said spokesperson Jim Milbury in the March 3 email. “This is the third year that our ceremonies have been at Angel Stadium. 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.”

After gathering in front of Brotman Hall, a group of about 30 people protesting CSULB’s commencement plans walked across campus on April 4, 2023. Photo by Tess Kazenoff.

Some family members of graduates have even joined the efforts through a letter writing campaign, said Mary Hanson, a grandmother of a 2023 graduate, in an email to the Long Beach Post. In a letter sent to President Conoley, Hanson noted that all other Southern California Cal State campuses have included calling names in their ceremonies, and she urged Conoley to reconsider the commencement decision.

According to Elrachid, for many students, the graduation ceremony is largely for the families.

“Like I know, for myself, my parents … came to America for me to have a better life,” Elrachid said. “They wanted to support me through college, and this is really important to them.”

As graduation is quickly approaching, Elrachid wants to be realistic with her expectations, she said.

“I’ve had some people telling me, like, ‘This is taking a lot of effort on your part, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere, maybe you should just rest,’ but I can’t,” Elrachid said. “Because I just know that if they don’t change it, it’s gonna be the same thing next year, and the year after. So we’ll see how it goes.”

“I’m still hopeful,” Elrachid continued. “I think that at least the media attention and the pressure from students will maybe allow administration to consider things a little bit further.”