The end of winter commencement ceremonies


Leah Van Weelden

Winter commencement ceremonies have been discontinued by the university. Students who graduate in the winter will e encouraged to walk in the spring ceremony.

In June 2021, Baker University Academic Affairs announced that winter commencement ceremonies would be discontinued indefinitely. The news was released in an email sent to all students stating that there would no longer be winter commencement ceremonies in order “to better align with other Kansas private institutions” and ensure that graduates are properly celebrated. Despite this statement, the announcement stirred confusion among students who were anticipating a winter graduation.

On average, anywhere between 20 to 40 Baker students from the Baldwin City campus, 10 percent to 25 percent of each senior class, graduate in the winter. This coming winter, senior Zaid Gratz is one of those students. He expressed frustration with how students were told about the change.

“I wish I had a little more information on why it was being canceled,” Gratz said. “Maybe if the Dean of Students or the President could voice that, that would be really helpful, especially for my class.”

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Darcy Russell explained that while budget did play a role in the decision, there were many other factors. The logistics of winter weather and scheduling for the winter ceremony ultimately made a large spring ceremony seem like a better option.

The 2019 winter commencement ceremony was postponed due to large amounts of snowfall on the scheduled day, and the 2020 ceremony was canceled due to COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. As a result, the 2021 spring ceremony was open for past graduates to come back and walk across the stage.

In addition to the circumstantial cancellations of the past two winter ceremonies, the weather never allowed for the typical graduation rituals to occur. The graduate walk around campus and baccalaureate ceremony were left out of the winter celebrations.

“The winter commencement has never been as lovely in my opinion…it’s always felt like it just wasn’t as big a deal,” Russell said. “And it just had never felt as fun for the students.”

In place of the winter ceremonies, graduates are invited to come back and walk in the spring commencement ceremony the following semester. Although delayed, the hope is that students will have a better experience and be able to reunite with their entire class.

Senior Hanna Stevens will graduate in the winter of 2022 and feels that returning for spring commencement could be an inconvenience for the winter graduates, especially those who, like herself, plans to leave Kansas after completing their degree.

“I was upset because I just feel like as a student at Baker all the time and effort and money that we put into being a student here, I feel like we deserve a graduation ceremony,” Stevens said.

Gratz expressed the same concern, stating that his attendance at the spring ceremony will depend on what opportunities he is pursuing at that time.

Because Stevens is graduating a semester after her classmates, she suggested a way to remedy the inconvenience of returning the spring after degree completion for other students in her situation by allowing students with an intent to graduate in the winter to participate in the spring commencement ceremony prior to their actual graduation. According to Russell, it is an option to walk a semester early as long as students have six or fewer credits remaining to complete their degree.

Although the decision to forego winter commencements was made by President Lynne Murray, Russell assures students that it was not made without a consensus. Murray sought input from the University’s Board of Trustees, all of the Deans and the Vice President of Finance, as well as considering what other colleges of Baker’s size do.

Russell feels as though the elimination of the winter ceremonies will allow for a proper celebration of students’ hard work and believes it was the right call.

“For me, it’s about community,” Russell said. “It’s about the fact that the class at the College of Arts and Sciences is generally between 180 and 200 people and you’ve been together for four years, and it just feels like you should be together for that big last ceremony.”

The 2022 spring commencement ceremony will be held Sunday, May 15 at 2:00 p.m.