The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

University returns to indoor ceremonies for upcoming Fall, Spring commencement

Kennady Basdekis-Morin
Last May, the university hosted Spring 2023 Commencement outside on the Lewis-Chien field for the first time. This year, an email confirmed the upcoming two commencement ceremonies will now be hosted indoors.

St. Edward’s University has announced plans to host Fall 2023and Spring 2024 Commencement Ceremonies as indoor events in the Recreation and Athletic Center after the Spring 2023 Commencement, which was outdoors, faced issues related to high temperatures and accessibility. 

“From the beginning, I think everyone was miserable, which I didn’t want to label a graduation as miserable, because it’s supposed to be exciting,” Nicole Pettigrew, 23’, said. “But physically, I think everyone was like, ‘oh, no.’”

At the event, the temperature peaked at 89 degrees. Students dressed in black gowns joined their friends, family and university community under a large tent on the Lewis-Chen Field.  Water stations were present on site, though hard to access in some areas, according to attendees.

“Once we had sat down, we started asking for water, and it was like they couldn’t find it or there wasn’t enough,” Pettigrew said. 

Measures to make the venue accessible to those with physical disabilities included adding a paved pathway. However, there was no paved pathway to the prominent water station or the first aid tent. There was no wheelchair accessible transportation to and from the field and there was no paved pathway near visitor seating.

“I went to the graduation in a wheelchair,” current senior Esther Heymans said. “It was incredibly hard for me to navigate. I was not able to sit with my best friend’s family. That’s who I went to go to the graduation to support, (and I) was not able to sit with them because their seats were in the grass and I was in a wheelchair. I had to sit by myself very far away from them.” 

On top of accessibility issues, some attendees, like Pettigrew, experienced health related issues during the ceremony. Near the beginning of the ceremony, Pettigrew had an unexpected seizure, which she has never had before, and EMS had to take her off the field.

“I have an Apple watch and it was telling me my heart rate was too high,” Pettigrew said. “I felt myself about to be out of it. I wish I knew who was next to me, but I tapped on the girl and said ‘hey, I’m going to pass out.’ EMS took me out and everything. So, that was kind of it for me.”

In the months leading up to graduation, students voiced many concerns about the ceremony, including accessibility issues and weather, ultimately leading to a student protest on the University seal and an open conversation between students, administration and the graduation committee. 

Although the university maintained a commitment to shared governance between students and administration following student concerns, including the formation of a student and admin graduation committee, the lack of consideration for accessibility in the initial planning of the event became a barrier to the event’s success.

“This could have been avoided if there had been a solid plan for accessibility in place before students needed to protest about it,” Heymans said. “ If disabled activists (and) disabled students had been in the room when those initial decisions were being made instead of when a problem arose, (it) could have been prevented.” 

The announcement of plans to host the two upcoming ceremonies indoors on campus was shared via email on Aug. 30 and posted to the St. Edward’s website. The announcement stated that Spring 2024 Commencement will have two ceremonies and that Fall 2023 Commencement will have one. Further details about logistics and ticketing will be communicated at a later date. 

A confirmed meeting with Provost Marianne Ward-Peradoza scheduled for Sept. 1 to discuss Spring 2023 Commencement was canceled on Aug. 30. A subsequent meeting was then requested by Hilltop Views and denied.

“The message that we need to take away from this is that commencement last year was a safety concern for many people,” Heymans said. “That cannot happen again, and if we spend time blaming one person or another, we’re gonna get so lost that we’re going to end up in the same place. So, instead of being angry and letting that anger go nowhere, take that anger and turn it into positive plans for the future so that people like me can attend my commencement.”

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About the Contributors
Chloe Almendarez
Chloe Almendarez, Managing Editor
Chloe Almendarez is a senior Psychology major with a minor in Education Studies. This is their second year working with "Hilltop Views" as Managing Editor. They are passionate about exploring education and equity. For all advertisement and business inquiries, you may contact them at [email protected]
Kennady Basdekis-Morin, Photo and Life/Arts Editor
Kennady Basdekis-Morin is a Senior Photo-communications major minoring in Journalism and Graphic Design.
She considers herself a student of life, learning and embracing the little things from an anthropologic perspective. Her enthusiasm for storytelling comes from documenting the sacred moments and rituals that make us human and constantly being on the search for what bonds us together. She aspires to be a photojournalist for National Geographic and other publications such as Travel & Leisure. This is her second year as Photo and Life/Arts Editor for "Hilltop Views," and she is looking forward to a great semester.

Comments (3)

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  • K

    Katie LizakSep 6, 2023 at 11:00 am

    I am so glad to know that the graduate who experienced the medical issue is ok. I’ve wondered about her since that day. The few hours we were at graduation, sitting under the tent with no air moving, were the most uncomfortable, miserable I’ve ever felt. I’m so glad I was able to watch my son graduate, but so disappointed that this is the last memory I have of St. Edwards.

  • M

    Melissa CarterSep 5, 2023 at 8:34 pm

    As someone who’s dated and lived with a person in a wheelchair….I couldn’t agree more. We are “blind” to how much we take for granted with functioning limbs

  • C

    Christine AlmendarezSep 5, 2023 at 2:27 pm

    Great write-up; at first I thought, ok it was hot; the article opened up my mind that we take our physical abilities for granted! I had not thought of those in wheelchairs and how an outdoor venue would impact so thank you for the insight, I will be mindful going forward!