by Chelsea Cabral, Staff Writer
This year’s 117th Commencement is making a move from UMass Dartmouth’s traditional Amphitheater to a much larger venue off campus: Mansfield’s Xfinity Center.
The change was first announced to graduating students, faculty, staff, and administrators through email in early September.
Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, David Milstone, who takes part in coordinating the graduation ceremony, was first in talks with the commencement committee, the executive board, and the faculty senate months prior to determine a new way of doing commencement this year.
“We were looking at 5 or 6 different ways of doing commencement,” says Milstone. “And a large problem we’ve had with commencement in the past is the rain determinant. We don’t have a very good alternative.”
Rain accommodations play a large role in the planning process for commencement. The campus’s Amphitheater on a beautiful day can hold 4,500 people, allowing graduates to invite 6+ guests to the ceremonies.
Rain spaces on campus, such as the Athletic Center, aren’t as spatially accommodating, seating only 1,400 and limiting graduates to only bring 1 or 2 guests, while large outdoor tents that hold 8,000 people “don’t look good and pose a hazard during thunder and lightning conditions,” says Milstone.
The use of the Xfinity Center for this year’s graduation ceremonies will allow seating for 14,000 (regardless of weather conditions) compared to the 4,500 of the Amphitheater and is fully ADA accessible. “This is a much-needed help since more and more people coming to our ceremonies are in need of accommodations,” says Milstone.
Dr. Milstone also stressed how a large number of the student population comes from first generation families. “It’s important that we allow the ability for many family members to see their student graduate live, especially those who are the first to graduate college in their families.”
A 45-minute drive from campus, the Xfinity Center offers top of the range audio-visual equipment that the UMass Dartmouth Commencement Committee hopes to utilize to create a more active, fun, and celebratory day. “Campuses our size have been moving to large concert venues,” says Milstone. “It’s the closest to us and right in the middle of where most families and faculty live…and we will be providing transportation for all residential students.”
According to Dr. Milstone, a major concern for students in the past concerned not being able to graduate with their friends whom are in different colleges. This year’s commencement would be a solution to that problem by offering only two ceremonies: Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 10 a.m. for graduate students and at 2:30 p.m. for undergraduate students.
“By offering two ceremonies, we will be able to keep the graduate ceremony to 90 minutes, and even include a special hooding ceremony for Doctoral students and the undergraduate ceremony to 120 minutes” said Milstone. “And with a larger undergraduate ceremony, bigger name speakers are willing to go if there are over 10,000, which is a perk.”
While Milstone said reception of the new graduation venue has been positive so far, he looks toward the future of UMass Dartmouth in terms of expanding the Amphitheater to use during the rain to keep the ceremonies at home and memorable. “Ultimately we don’t want to be weather-dependent,” says Milstone. “When we do something new like this, we consider it a pilot, until we are able to build a bigger Amphitheater.”
Additional details about Commencement will be available online by early October. If any additional questions remain until then, you can contact the Student Affairs Office at 508-999-8640 or email Dr. Milstone directly.