For the third consecutive year, Cal State Long Beach graduates won’t walk the stage or have their names read aloud during the university’s 2023 commencement ceremonies at Angel Stadium — a pandemic-era change that appears to be permanent.
During the previous two years, CSULB’s commencement ceremonies, the 2023 iteration of which will run from May 15 to 17, forwent the ceremonial tradition of having students walk across stage to receive their diplomas, opting instead to display students’ names on a jumbotron while they remained seated.
This year’s commencement events will be much the same — even as pandemic-era health restrictions are essentially all gone.
CSULB’s various colleges will have their ceremonies at different times over three days at Angel Stadium.
The university will once again offer “recognition stages” in the Angel Stadium parking lot. Graduates will be able to scan a QR code to display a photo and their name as they walk those smaller-scale stages. Some of the university’s cultural graduation ceremonies, which take place before the main commencement, will also feature name reading.
“After well-received commencement ceremonies at Angel Stadium in 2021 and 2022, the university is returning to the venue for a third time in 2023,” CSULB spokesperson Jim Milbury said in a Monday, March 13, email. “As in past years, we are confident that Commencement 2023 will be a rewarding and celebratory capstone for our graduates and their accomplishments.”
But those previous graduating classes weren’t exactly happy with the ceremonies they got.
Last year, for example, CSULB students started a petition, which received 8,000 signatures, asking the university’s leadership to re-establish the longstanding graduation traditions they’d been hoping to partake in as they worked toward finishing their degrees. That didn’t happen.
The university’s current concern, however, is less about mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and more about the logistical difficulty of overseeing ceremonies for about 12,000 graduates.
“While it is not practical at this scale to read graduates’ names during the main ceremonies,” Milbury said, “graduates will see their names in the program and featured on the jumbotron during the processional into the stadium.”
But for some members of the class of 2023, that isn’t enough.
Students plastered CSULB’s campus with flyers on Monday asking the university to “Let ’23 Walk’ — with a QR code linking to a new petition on Change.org. That petition, launched about two weeks ago, had already garnered more than 9,700 signatures — with a goal of 10,000 — by around 7 p.m. Monday.
“Most other CSUs have returned to their original commencement procedures since last year,” petition organizer Zeina Elrachid wrote on Change.org. “Just like students at other universities, we deserve to be recognized, not only by our friends and family, but by our university as well. We deserve to walk.”
Taryn Boyle, another CSULB class of 2023 grad, said much the same in a Monday interview.
“I went back to school after taking a break for 10 years, so I went back to school at the age of 28,” Boyle said. “And it’s been a struggle — financially, being an older student, and working and going to school.”
But the one thing that kept Boyle working toward earning her degree in creative writing — the passion she went back to school to pursue — was knowing her accomplishments would eventually be celebrated.
“The idea of having my name called and being able to walk on the stage was something that was really driving me forward and something that I kind of had this big dream of,” Boyle said. “I barely graduated high school, and now I’m graduating summa cum laude, so I was very disappointed that I couldn’t show my family how far I’ve come.”
For Boyle, the ceremonies — and the remote recognition stages offered by the CSULB in place of the traditional stage walk — feels underwhelming.
“It kind of feels like a joke that we’re paying all this money and yet we’re getting this kind of like, slapdash graduation where they kind of just rush us through the inside and then they just send us outside and we scan a QR code and we just kind of walk across a makeshift stage,” Boyle said. “It kind of reminds me of a preschool graduation almost, like what I did when I was a kid.”
Boyle isn’t alone.
James Monroe, a history major graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree, said the cost of graduation for what he’s getting made him rethink his attendance entirely.
It costs $50 for a bachelor’s cap, gown and tassel. Other accoutrements — such as sashes, which range from those representing LGBTQ Pride to traditional Mexican serapes — cost extra, as do photo packages.
“I went to go buy the cap and gown, and (realized) this is a lot of money — and we’re not even really doing the ceremony; we’re just sitting there and listening to other people talk,” Monroe said in a Monday interview. “And it’s at a stadium that has nothing to do with Cal State Long Beach — it’s half a county a way. I don’t want to drive all the way out there.”
The story would be different, Monroe said, if he got to walk the stage and hear his name called at commencement. Monroe also had trouble completing his bachelor’s degree — with these past few years of study marking his third attempt to finish.
“This is my third time attending school, and I finally finished,” Monroe said. “So, I’m pretty bummed that we’re not going to be able to walk and have our names called out.”
His family, who are from the Midwest, were also planning to fly out for the celebration — but are now reconsidering the plan.
“They’re really disappointed too (and) they don’t want to come to the commencement ceremony anymore, either,” Monroe said. “So right now, I’m trying to set up a plan to celebrate off campus somewhere with my friends and family.”
Hundreds of other CSULB students, faculty and friends who signed the new petition on Change.org echoed Boyle’s and Monroe’s concerns in online comments, asking the university to reconsider its plans for this year’s commencement.
The university, though, seems poised to carry out the ceremonies at Angel Stadium as planned.
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