Seton Hall explains commencement decision, understands backlash

Joey Khan for SHU Athletics

Joey Khan for SHU Athletics

Updated at 2:37 p.m. on Nov. 23: Chris Wallace, Prudential Center’s vice president of communications, said that the arena and Seton Hall had previously discussed two other dates in addition to May 15, 2017. Seton Hall was locked into the May 15 date by the time the University realized Prudential Center would not be available that day.


Seniors who were hoping to graduate at the Prudential Center can blame wrestling for the venue’s lack of availability.

The arena will be hosting a WWE event on Monday, May 15 – the day of the Seton Hall University 2017 Baccalaureate Commencement Ceremony – according to Bernadette McVey, SHU’s director of academic events, initiatives and planning.

Seton Hall’s Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President sent out an email on Friday, Nov. 18 announcing that commencement would take place on campus this year. The email said Prudential Center, the event’s typical location, was not available, but did not explain why. The statement also said that students will have to graduate in three separate ceremonies depending on their college. The ceremonies are set for 9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. It is not yet clear where on campus the ceremonies will take place.

McVey said that the university had planned on being at the Prudential Center for graduation, but did not find out until a few weeks ago that the venue would not be available on May 15.

“They weren’t telling us what it was – turns out it’s WWE wrestling,” she said. “That started us thinking, ‘What are we going to do here?’”

McVey said Prudential Center usually offers itself as a venue to Seton Hall for free, as it is the home of the men’s basketball team. Seton Hall pays for the sound system and other various expenses during the event, but McVey said graduation comes at a great cost to Prudential Center. Any other event, like WWE wrestling, provides a profit.

Chris Wallace, Prudential Center’s vice president of communications, confirmed that there was a scheduling conflict on May 15. He clarified that two other dates had been previously discussed. Seton Hall, however, was locked into the May 15 date by the time the university realized Prudential Center would not be available that day.     

McVey said that she made an attempt to find another sizeable venue.

“I did reach out to MetLife Stadium to see if we could do it outside there – I know it’s a big venue – but Fairleigh Dickinson has theirs there,” McVey said. “We cannot have it that Monday; they have something going on already.”  

Dr. Joan Guetti, senior associate provost, said that the university was locked into the date due to scheduling conflicts that both preceded and followed May 15, which is about a week after finals. She cited events such as the hooding ceremony, senior luncheon, a pre-graduation Sunday Mass and the start of summer school.   

“The Monday graduation day has become sort of a staple and that’s what we were aiming for,” Guetti said.

Guetti also mentioned that the university has held ceremonies on campus in the past. McVey said there has been talk in recent years of bringing the ceremony back to campus. This year, the decision was forced upon Seton Hall.

“Am I happy about the turn of events? No, but I want to make the best out of a situation that’s kind of a hard situation, so that’s where we are,” McVey said. “Everything was predicated on the Monday date.”

McVey is not the only one unhappy with the plan. She said that while the University has heard some positive feedback, responses from students, parents and alumni have mostly been negative.

“I’m getting everything from vulgarity and curse words to articulate, well thought-out responses,” she said.

McVey and Guetti added that they are aware of a petition titled “Change Seton Hall Class of 2017 Graduation Venue,” which as of 7 p.m. on Nov. 21, has 742 signatures.

“We ask you to please reconsider your decision regarding the venue for our commencement ceremony” the petition states. “This decision has upset so many students, parents, and friends of ours. We deserve better on the most special day of our lives, and we have the right to spend this most special day with the ones we love.”

With an on-campus commencement resulting in a smaller space for attendees, Seton Hall will offer a limited number of tickets for students’ friends and families – a problem that did not exist when held at Prudential Center. Furthermore, with three different ceremonies planned according to students’ majors, some seniors, like Cameron Wheeler, are upset that they will not get to walk with their closest friends.  

“I am a Diplomacy major with a double minor in economics and Spanish and have made many friends in both minors that I will most likely not be walking with if Seton Hall continues with three small ceremonies,” he said.

McVey pointed out that students have always had to sit according to major, though she did acknowledge that three ceremonies would make it difficult for some friends to meet up afterwards for pictures, meals and other plans.

Additionally, some were upset with the timing of Seton Hall’s Nov. 18 announcement, which was sent via email at 4:24 p.m. on Friday Nov. 18. Most administrators leave for the day around 5 p.m. and many students are off campus by then.

“I think the timing of the email was designed to minimize student’s ability to respond and maximize the university’s ability to ignore complaints,” Wheeler said.

McVey and Guetti both explained that the university wanted to get the information out as soon as possible following a Nov. 17 article published in The Setonian which covered SHU’s lack of a publicized plan.

“You have to understand the logistics in all of this are quite complicated,” Guetti said. “We had to get sign-off from a number of different areas that we could make it work.”

Guetti also addressed another graduation topic covered by The Setonian on Nov. 17, that of a commencement speaker. She said the “tentative” plan is to go with student speakers at each ceremony.

McVey said that the university had not planned on having a keynote speaker when it thought commencement would take place at Prudential Center.

Those decisions have not been finalized however, nor have the overall plans for future graduations. When asked if she expects more commencement ceremonies to take place on campus, Guetti was noncommittal.

“I guess we’ll have to see how well this goes,” she said.

When asked what she would say to students who don’t plan on walking on May 15 or donating to Seton Hall in the future – complaints that have been voiced on social media – McVey said “don’t let your commencement ceremony dictate the last four years.”

“I would urge students to participate,” she said. “It will be really nice. Even if you’re upset, don’t let it overshadow – [the ceremony is] two hours of your whole entire life and the accomplishment is still there. You’re going to be graduating. It’s a huge accomplishment.”

Guetti, in agreement, asked that seniors partake in their commencement.    

“Give us a chance to make it a great ceremony,” she said.

Gary Phillips can be reached at or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.

Author: Gary Phillips

Gary Phillips is a journalism major at Seton Hall University where he serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Setonian. In addition, Phillips is also a columnist at FanRag Sports and a contributing writer for Jets Wire. He has also interned at CNBC and The Bergen Record and written for Bleacher Report and Double G Sports, in addition to freelance work. You can follow Phillips on Twitter @GaryHPhillips and see all of his work at

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  1. From a senior graduating in the spring: After reading this article it seems like Seton Hall has not only short changed it graduating class, but has also hired people like Bernadette McVey who are clearly unqualified for their job, had they been qualified for their job they would realize that MetLife is not the only stadium that can host a graduation ceremony.

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    • So, with your extensive knowledge of the inner workings of how a college administration works, what other stadiums do you suggest ? I’m sure MSG, The Staples Center, Cowboy Stadium, and Wembley Stadium would love to give us their venues for FREE.

      The writing is on the wall for anyone with a brain – SHU goes anywhere else, they will have to nearly triple their ticketing prices for your parents to get in, at which point you will cry about the pricing. So, instead, they put you on our beautiful campus (one of the reasons I’m sure many of your classmates came to this school) and you decide to attack the person in charge for dealing with the mess all because you can’t see your friend immediately. Since yourso upset, I’m sure Ms McVey can just ask the Board of Regents for an extra $500,000 in their budget to rent an ENTIRE ARENA OUTSIDE OF OUR STATE (because newsflash – IZOD is dead and no one outside of Jersey cares where Seton Hall has their ceremony). The Prudential Center clearly screwed SHU over here, and you decide to shoot the messenger.

      You don’t even have the courage to put your name on it, ‘Graduating Senior.’ So, offering you the same courtesy, this ‘Actual Adult’ thinks you need to grow up before the real world chews you up.

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  2. I just don’t understand why commencement needs to be on that date. I really do not think that the senior class would be upset if the date was moved to a more fitting date for the Prudential especially since they offer up the venue free of charge to Seton Hall, as stated in this article. It is a big deal, this 2 hour ceremony. I hope that Ms. McVey puts more of an effort and finds another alternative, but this is just not acceptable, we want to graduate with our peers all together.

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  3. I think this article is just an attempt to save their donations from alumni. This university has great connections but when it comes to doing things students truly take to heart-they are shit. Last year they had no speaker and now this year the seniors will be torn apart, forced to graduate separately. I am a junior here at SHU, and I can guarantee that if they mess up our graduation, they will not be getting a dime from me. This graduation should have been planned months ago and with all the tuition they charge, there should be an event planner with a brain working SHU.

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  4. My whole thing about this is that when did the school stop trying to find a place for us to hold graduation? Why are they not working towards finding a place where all of my siblings and extended family members can attend? Another thing I don’t understand is why the school waited so late to find a place to hold gradation and book if they knew that they were having it on May 15th? I don’t understand why they are not even willing to have it somewhere a little further away from school so that we can have better accommodation. One last thing is I would not mind having graduation on a Sunday at Prudential. If the school expects us to be flexible as students why can they not be flexible with us. They expect us to be okay with getting short changed not only as Undergraduate students from any college but also as students attending a private school that has the ability to have a free location for graduation. Undergraduate admissions rather spend money on fixing the green every summer and changing the already awesome gym along with other “improvement” instead of spending money for their students graduation. This will be a poor refection on this school that will last. This school is undermining our academic achievements.

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  5. This is totally unacceptable!! I have triplets graduating in May and would like an answer as to how this will be handled! I really do not feel like staying there all day!! Change the date of the graduation!! It doesn’t take a college degree to figure that one out!! So disappointed lately with the University!

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  6. If changing the date is not an option. Why can’t a different venue be considered besides MetLife? Maybe PNC Arts Center? Red Bull Arena?

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  7. Graduation is a guaranteed event each year at SHU, this is not a surprise to anyone! The fact that this was not executed properly indicates to me the leadership must change. Graduation planning for each year should begin immediately after the current year’s event is complete. No excuse for this situation!

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  8. The WWE. Quite a challenge. But with that said, seems to me that The Hall could work harder in making this right. With such proximity to NYC, I am sure SHU could find a professional 3rd party event planning firm with plenty of contacts at all kinds of venues. There’s got to be alumn somewhere who knows a person whose aunt knows a person and so on, that could pull this off for the graduating students. Forget petitions. It’s time for SHU to get out there and pound the pavement, and suck up the cost of doing the right thing. A few blisters and a few more prayers could make all the difference.

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  9. A situation like this really sheds light on the trouble our society is in. Why are individuals who are graduating college throwing a hissy fit tantrum over where there commencement is held? If graduation is not at the Prudential Center does that mean you did not finish college? No. Does it mean that you will not get a diploma or any recognition that you actually finished a degree? No. So I am still wondering what the fuss is over this situation. Most colleges of Seton Hall’s size have their ceremonies individualized and on campus and the fact that Seton Hall is following suite is no shock. The fact that this generation of student finds something to complain about with everything is just another reason older generations are constantly putting us down. (if I recall their were complaints about parking at Prudential just last year)

    It is also concerning that people who clearly have no idea how an organization like SHU works is putting down an employee who they do not even know. Does everyone who is bashing Ms. McVey and saying she is the problem REALLY think that she alone decides where graduation is held? Do you even think she had any say in where the event is held? She is clearly just the event planner and plans the event in the location that is selected. Does no one realize that there is a University Provost and President who make decisions this scale.

    If any one who is getting a college degree thinks it is ok to bash an employee who is most likely the messenger and then tantrum because they are not getting what they want needs a wake up call because the real world is not going to be as accommodating as they think.

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  10. Situations are complicated. Nothing is ideal. Welcome to the real world. Parents–please teach your kids perspective. Congrats on graduating. If you think it’s the most important day of your life… then I don’t have much else to say to you.

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