UF releases Commencement Task Force report

The University of Florida today released the President’s Commencement Task Force report, the product of six months of work by students, faculty and staff aimed at ensuring that UF graduation ceremonies celebrate and are meaningful for all graduates.

The task force, the formation of which UF President Kent Fuchs announced last May, was created immediately after the spring 2018 commencement during which a marshal, whose role was to serve as an usher, aggressively rushed graduates as they were walking across the stage to receive recognition. The task force was composed equally of students, faculty and staff.

The 31-page Commencement Task Force Report includes a list of recommendations based on input from college deans, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and participants and guests of UF’s 2018 commencement who completed a post-commencement survey. UF remains committed to surveying ceremony attendees for their input after each ceremony.

“I’m thankful to all of the task force members for their time, dedication and very thoughtful recommendations,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “Commencement has changed many times in our university’s history as the needs and expectations of our students, families and faculty have evolved, and as UF evolves with them. We will continue to strive to shape the very best celebration of our students and this important day in their lives and the life of our university community.”

UF remains committed to maintaining its stature as one of only a handful of universities where students can participate in commencement ceremonies and be individually recognized three times each year.

The university has adopted many of the task force’s recommendations and others remain under consideration. The individual recommendations and subsequent actions are as follows:

UF graduation ceremony planning committees should adopt the following proposed purpose statement and values that guide decisions related to any and all graduation activities:
“Graduation ceremonies and commencement mark the beginning of students’ new lives in the world. At the University of Florida, we strive to create a celebratory graduation experience that honors our esteemed graduates, their families, friends, and the UF community. Graduation at the University of Florida celebrates the tenacity and dedication graduates embodied to reach this important milestone in their academic career and enter the Gator Nation as alumnae.”

The UF Commencement Committee will consider and vote on this recommendation at its next meeting. If passed, it will go to Provost Joe Glover for approval.

Provide a mechanism for students to provide input and help select the graduation ceremony speakers. 

Anyone wishing to nominate a guest speaker for the spring university-wide commencement speaker may do so via this online form on the UF Commencement Website

Offer more events leading up to and during graduation weekend to emphasize the community’s collective achievement.

UF Student Government introduced the “Senior Sendoff” as part of the May 2019 graduate festivities and is expected to continue this new tradition next spring. 

Utilize the full campus and campus community for graduation ceremonies. For example, extend the marshal opportunities to staff, encourage staff and faculty to volunteer at college recognition ceremonies and university-wide commencement. 

The Commencement Service Volunteer position for staff and for Cicerones was created this spring. Other ways to expand the invitation to more campus stakeholders are also being explored.

For a university-wide commencement ceremony, UF should engage an artistic director to create a vision for the ceremony. Additionally, a line producer and a stage manager should be employed for the ceremony.

This recommendation is currently being reviewed.

Explore the feasibility of an “award-show, two-stage” production design.  This scalable endeavor would cost in order of magnitude, between $500,000 - $1,000,000 to launch, but would have a 10-year lifespan.

Although this currently exceeds available resources, the concept would enhance the ceremony and will remain an option for the future should funding become available.

To command a stadium ceremony, UF should engage a major celebrity or public figure to both entertain and speak at the university-wide ceremony.

Students or others are encouraged to propose guest speakers for upcoming spring university-wide commencement speakers here.

Be mindful of costs for which attendees are responsible when scheduling graduation and college-recognition ceremony dates and times.  Extended days/nights in Gainesville can be cost-prohibitive to some families. UF should offer solutions to minimize extra costs on low-income families.

UF’s commencement plan schedules as many ceremonies and students as possible on the day of, or the day next to, the university-wide ceremony, to minimize the need for additional days/nights.

Find a production solution to ensure that all students’ names are pronounced correctly.

The university continues to encourage students to write their name phonetically on their name cards as requested on the cards. It’s important for all students both to fill their cards out completely and to submit them as directed. 

Include and elevate special events that recognize specific populations on campus. For example:
Umoja Graduation Ceremony
Hispanic & LatinX Graduation
Asian Excellence Graduation Ceremony
Lavender Graduation
Disability Resource Center Celebrating Access Ceremony
Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Graduation Reception

These ceremonies will be added to the commencement website and the graduation guidebook within the GatorWay app (available at the App Store).

In order to focus on collective experience for all graduates, minimize the number of awards given at recognition ceremonies and create other events to present awards.

This recommendation is being reviewed. 

Regularly seek input from students on college recognition ceremonies.

The UF Commencement Committee includes student representatives. Additionally, all graduating students continue to be surveyed for their feedback, a process that began in fall 2018.

Marshals should not be limited to only faculty.

UF continues to explore ways to invite and include campus stakeholders beyond faculty.

Incentivize faculty participation to encourage voluntary interest.

This recommendation is under review. 

Standardize marshal selection criteria and processes.

Colleges continue to manage this responsibility. 

Infuse training and assignment with positive value of marshal; ensure marshals understand that they are there to celebrate (rather than discipline) students.

The university revitalized training sessions in the summer of 2018 and has continued to revise and adjust them each semester since then based on feedback from the marshals about their needs. More long term, the goal is to create training videos for those who are unable to attend training sessions. 

Recognize marshals.
    • Add recognition of marshals into ceremony
    • Follow service with thank you note from President Fuchs
    • Host a reception at University House or President’s House after ceremony to thank marshals

President Fuchs sent a letter of thanks to faculty and staff who served as check-in staff, volunteers and marshals at the spring 2019 graduation. He will continue this practice in the future.

Evaluate the marshal training on a yearly basis.

The university revitalized training sessions in the summer of 2018 and have tweaked them each semester since then based on survey feedback from the marshals. We have also continued to revise training documents. 

Utilize existing or create an on-going Graduation committee charged with visioning, implementing, and evaluating the preeminent graduation experience.

The commencement committee changed form in 2019, eliminating positions previously labeled as “lifetime,” allowing for more consistent rotation of members and roles. The committee will work toward identifying long-term goals based on the recommendations of the task force – as well as needs that arise due to shifts in participation rates, sizes of graduating classes, or other changes.

Continuously evaluate student and guest experience at graduation ceremonies. 

In fall 2018, UF created and distributed a survey to graduates and family members with the focus on the university-wide ceremony. In spring 2019, we expanded the survey to include questions about the college recognition ceremonies. This process will remain a continual part of the commencement cycle. We continue to look for ways to reach more guests to ensure we’re collecting data from all perspectives.

Additionally, based on input students and attendees provided after the spring 2019 ceremony, all college-based individual recognition ceremonies in spring 2020 will be held indoors, either in the Exactech Arena in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center or in the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

The university-wide ceremony in spring 2020 will be held outdoors, rain or shine, on Friday, May 1, and will include the new tradition of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” sung during the recessional. If the university-wide ceremony is affected by weather, students will still be individually recognized during the indoor college ceremonies.

No university-wide ceremony will be held in December; instead, multiple ceremonies will be held in Exactech Arena over two days. Commencement in August will consist of two ceremonies, also in Exactech Arena.

The doctoral commencement ceremony, which in recent years has been held on Friday afternoons of spring commencement weekend, will instead be held on Thursday, April 30 beginning at 7 p.m.