By: Ethan Smith, News Editor
Students conveyed their growing confusion and frustrations with the decision regarding spring 2019 Commencement to SGA and administrative staff members at an open forum Jan. 23.
“One of the happiest times in a student’s college career as well as for their families, is being hindered by these new changes,” said SGA Executive Vice President, Spencer Demink. “Although inevitable, I believe how these changes have been presented easily could have been better. More importantly, the safety of thousands of students is being put at risk by putting them all in cars driving up and down I-16, a notoriously dangerous stretch of road.”
“In addition to that, Savannah State’s commencement is the same day, making this issue even worse. These changes are causing many families to not be able to attend commencement as some do not have the ability to drive long distances, book lodging in time, etc. It is safe to say we are the largest opponent to these changes and we are continuously acting accordingly.”
“We were able to give our feedback as that is what they asked for, and as students elected to represent the student body, we did just that. We stated in many more ways than one that these changes were going to be detrimental to the students in many different ways,” continued Demink.
“We asked about transportation concerns but got no reply. The image of thousands of students driving up and down I-16 strikes fear into us, the image of students walking across the stage with at best, their family watching from a computer screen upsets us, and the fact that this is how it was all announced to us angers us.”
Many students who attended the SGA meeting voiced their opinions firmly. Here are some of their thoughts regarding commencement.
“I want to be angry, but mostly heartbroken,” said Rhonda Ruesch, upcoming Spring 2019 graduate.
“I waited 10 years to go to college and there was nowhere else I even applied to other than Armstrong. I have immersed myself totally in the college experience, involved in many leadership positions on campus.”
“I did what I could to support the merger even as we lost our identity to Georgia Southern. I am now a Senior, scheduled to graduate in May, and the last bit of my college experience-the largest part- is now also being taken from me.”
Other students like Miyanla Brockington, class of 2020, voiced opinions similar to Ruesch’s.
“I applied at Armstrong as a Pirate and took pride in the fact that we were Armstrong. A family was formed and an atmosphere was set the moment I stepped on campus,” said Brockington.
“I looked forward to graduating as a Pirate but stood down as the merger occurred. I would like the last privilege of graduating on Armstrong Campus, since I will not be able to graduate as a Pirate.”
The SGA senators also did not shy away from giving their opinions on the decision.
“I would like the commencement decision to be reversed because I feel like the students would want to celebrate their graduation in the campus where they earned their degree,” said SGA Senator Jani McDaniel. “It’s a sentimentality thing but it’s a very important one!”
Numerous SGA Senators assured those in attendance that they are doing everything they can to make sure the student body is heard.
“The students have a right to be upset. SGA will do all in our power to make it right,” said SGA Senator Alecia Kovach.
“I’m here to help clarify the misconceptions and support the students and fellow senators,” said SGA Senator Selmann Padridin.
“It makes no sense that none of the senior students knew about the graduation changes,” said SGA Senator Maurice Green. “The senior SGA representatives never said anything to anyone because of confidentiality, but confidentiality basically means y’all didn’t want us to know, let alone voice our opinion?”
Throughout the meeting, numerous officials, mainly the Dean of Students Andrew Dies, explained how the commencement plan was conceived.
“It is highly unlikely that anything involving commencement changes at this point,” Dies said.
“SGA represents the entire student body, and the executive board represents the SGA. Your voice will be brought up for sure.”
“As a function of consolidation, we knew this was going to be changed,” Dies said. “We do believe after looking at all available options that the college-based graduation format was best for the institution. We took that to the commencement task-force and chose that decision.”
“Armstrong State is gone, that is a tremendous change.” said Dr. Christopher Curtis, a professor of History here at Armstrong.
Vice President of Student Affairs Georj Lewis said, “regardless of the outcome, there will be problems.”
Dr. Lewis cautioned students on making a change this late in the process.
“All that being said, the decision is made, and it is what you saw, I would caution you on making a change. Waiting three to four weeks will make accommodations even more challenging. The commencement task force will speak on a resolution today[Wednesday]. Plan and proceed on what you have in front of you.”
A vote was tabled for the institution to immediately reverse the commencement decision.
The commencement decision entails a college-based graduation, in which students would attend ceremonies on the campus in which the college they are in is primarily based. The SGA legislation states that the university automatically reverse that decision and return to a campus-based graduation format, where students graduate on the campus in which they are enrolled in.
The vote passed soundly, with no one present opposing the legislation from Senator Tyack.
The legislation was officially signed by Executive Vice President Demink and the meeting adjourned.