Commencement 2004

Undergrads will receive diplomas in more personal ceremonies

In an effort to make commencement at Tufts more meaningful and personal, undergraduates in the Class of 2004 will receive their diplomas at smaller, more intimate ceremonies on May 23, marking a key change from previous years, when the 1,300 students in the schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering were awarded their degrees at one large ceremony.

photo of students at graduation

This year's graduates will receive their diplomas in smaller, more intimate ceremonies © Mark Morelli

James Glaser, dean of undergraduate education, said the plan is to have smaller groups of students receive their diplomas at locations around campus. Departments will be clustered together, and diplomas will be presented to students in groups ranging from 50 to 250. Graduates of the School of Engineering will receive their degrees at a ceremony in Cousens Gymnasium.

The university’s 148th Commencement will still begin at 9 a.m. with the all-university ceremony, known as Phase I, on the Academic Quad. Students from all Tufts’ schools and their families will hear the commencement speaker and watch the awarding of honorary degrees.

Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and former managing editor of Time magazine and chairman and CEO of CNN, will address the 2004 graduates. Tufts will award honorary degrees to Isaacson, Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, Grammy award-winning musician Tracy Chapman, J86, Nathan Gantcher, A62, who chaired the Tufts Board of Trustees for eight years, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Morehouse College President Walter Massey.

In the past, undergraduates remained on the Quad after the all-university ceremony to receive their diplomas, while students in Tufts’ professional schools moved to other locations to receive their degrees during Phase II of commencement.

Glaser said that in years past, parents have commented that the awarding of degrees to so many students at one time was rushed and impersonal. Families of undergraduates would have to stay in their seats for more than two hours once the all-university ceremony ended. “Their student would get eight seconds of recognition, and it was over,” said Glaser. “For faculty, the incentive to participate was low. In the chaos of post-commencement, they didn’t get to say goodbye to their students or meet their students’ families. And it was a problem for students because about a third of the way through the ceremony, people started getting up and milling around. So if you were someone whose name was called in the middle or the end, there weren’t people in the seats to appreciate that moment,” Glaser said.

“As nice as Phase I of the ceremony is, Phase II was lacking,” Glaser said. “It’s such a wonderful event and a wonderful day, and there’s such a nice glow about it.”

The idea of having smaller degree-granting ceremonies came from the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience, which looked at ways of improving life at Tufts for undergraduates. Glaser said President Lawrence S. Bacow is committed to the task force recommendation to improve “this last moment that we have with our students.”

Under the new plan, there will be 14 separate ceremonies for undergraduates. Glaser said an effort was made to group departments together in a logical fashion so that drama, music and art history students will receive their diplomas together.

“We’ll be able to recognize students who have won awards in their departments and students who have written honors theses. [Phase II] will be much shorter, and we think it will be a much more pleasant, meaningful experience,” Glaser said.

In another change from previous years, the undergraduate selected as the recipient of the Wendell Phillips Award will give his or her address during the baccalaureate service on Saturday, May 22, instead of during the Phase II commencement ceremony. The baccalaureate, which begins at 3 p.m. on Fletcher Field, dates back to 1865 at Tufts.