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Seton Hall explains commencement decision, understands backlash

[caption id="attachment_16482" align="alignnone" width="458"]Joey Khan for SHU Athletics Joey Khan for SHU Athletics[/caption] 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.

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