By Laura Galante —
Since the recent increase of AUC’s student body, the logistics of the graduation ceremony of 2016 have sparked discussion among students. This comes as a result of the limited capacity of 900 people that the Vrije Universiteit’s (VU) venue can provide for the students and their guests. The VU has been hosting AUC’s graduation ceremony ever since the college’s establishment.
On Wednesday, 16 March, Marcus Smit, team leader of the Services & Communication support staff, and AUCSA representative Jerome Mies spoke at an open question session on the graduation ceremony, which is scheduled to take place on June 28th. Around ten third-year students attended to express their concerns on the organization of the graduation.
Ten days earlier, AUCSA released a statement and a poll on behalf of the AUC Graduation Committee via Facebook, communicating two potential options, A and B; for the ceremony, the first option would allow for the graduation ceremony to remain exactly like it was in previous years, namely an uninterrupted, single event. This time, however, it would limit the guest number to two people per student instead of the usual three. AUCSA and the Student Council, worried about the limitation on guest numbers, strongly favored exploring alternatives to allow for three guests, which lead to the introduction of the second option, B. This would entail two shorter ceremonies to accommodate the first half of students graduating, along with their guests, and, later, the second half of students together with their guests.
The Graduation Committee consists of representatives from the AUC faculty and staff, Student Council and AUCSA, the latter two only being responsible for representing students’ opinions on the matter. Faculty members include Dean Murray Pratt, Vice Dean Ramon Puras, and Senior Tutor Mariette Willemsen. The support staff includes Marcus Smit, Managing Director Belinda Stratton, as well as members of the Communications team Ben Garstka, Nora McLeese and Michael Vermeer.
Although a clear majority of the 130 students who voted on the Facebook poll (73%), which also included first and second years, chose option A, that option too received negative feedback because of the decrease in guests. “[I want to see] the people I love, I don’t care about the fancy graduation,” said Tess Post, a third year student. Graduates would now face the task of having to choose between graduating together with all their friends from AUC or having more than two guests attending the ceremony.
Smit explained that last year the AUC graduation budget increased by 33%, from €15,000 to €20,000. It was the first time it was increased since AUC’s conception in order to accommodate for the increasing amount of graduating students. However, the eventual costs amounted to nearly €26,000 due to unforeseen expenses. This year, the Graduation Committee has budgeted €20,000 again and plans to fit guests and students within the VU’s capacity, which is 900 people. There will be 19 additional graduates compared to last year’s ceremony, with the estimated total number going from 219 to 238, which is why option B was raised for the first time. When faced with the question of looking into other venues, Smit said that the VU was the most viable option in terms of rent, of which AUC is paying ~€780. The other half is paid by the VU itself. Alternative venues, such as Amsterdam RAI, Concertgebouw and Koninklijk Theater Carré were deemed beyond the possible budget.
Several students were angered that this statement was released only recently without taking into account family and friends who would be traveling from afar to come to the graduation ceremony. Sofía González, a third year student, expressed concern over this. “It’s very unprofessional to release a new statement concerning the graduation only about four months before the actual event. Most students are internationals and have probably already booked flights for their relatives abroad,” she said.
According to Smit, the reason why the two options were released only three weeks ago was because the Graduation Committee was still looking for alternative venues that could host more than 1000 students and guests. Also, they wanted to wait for the arrival of the new dean before deciding to change tradition, as what is to be set for this year’s graduation will affect the tradition of future graduations as well.
The issue of the venue also raised questions on why it is not possible to increase the budget for the graduation ceremony. Because the budget was already raised last year due to the increase in the number of students, it is not possible to raise it further this year, according to Smit. Students mentioned the option of taking money from the AUCSA Lustrum budget, which had previously received criticism due to its high expenditure, but because the graduation is organized by AUC and not by AUCSA, this is not a viable option either. “We don’t have any say in [The Graduation Committee’s] budget, just like they don’t have any say in our budget,” said Stefanie Berendsen, AUCSA’s treasurer.
Another concern students voiced was the ambiguity in the explanation of option B: several of those present at the meeting felt it was framed as an imperfect, but necessary alternative, rather than an adequate solution. The Graduation Committee will further clarify this option in terms of logistics and procedure in an e-mail to the student body later this week.
This article uses a photograph by Peter Lowie from the official AUC Facebook page.