How FRCC’s Graduation Looks Seven Months Away

The first meeting of FRCC’s transitional commencement committee was held on September 14th this semester. This committee, according to FRCC’s employee-only internal website, was “being established to enhance our students’ experience at FRCC’s graduation celebrations and to ensure that all students from every campus get to participate in a consistent, high-quality celebration of their achievements.”

Professor John Kinsey, one of the members of the committee and the Westminster Campus Faculty Senate President-elect, commented that, at this first meeting, the committee primarily concerned itself with “kinda map[ping] out what our goals were [with commencement] and try[ing] to get a consensus on what those goals were … a bunch of brainstorming is what’s happened so far.”

So what goals had they mapped out?

Professor Kinsey answered, “The most urgent issue is because the 1stBank Center is closing, Westminster needs to find a new place ASAP … [and also] to elevate the brand, to try to get more engagement, more people going, more people excited about it.”

FRCC students, staff, and faculty gather at First Bank Center in Broomfield, Colo to celebrate commencement on May 15, 2019. Photo by Ezra Ekman.

Oliver Hatcher, a member of SGA from FRCC’s Larimer campus, revealed that the committee “was really centered around how last graduation went and your experience with graduations.” He also said that there had been a poll conducted with the people in the meeting that asked for opinions on how last graduation had been.

One thing the committee brainstormed about was how to increase engagement at commencement. Professor Kinsey provided an example of this in Mardi Gras beads.

“I’m from New Orleans, and we love Mardi Gras beads, so I had suggested, like, give every graduate 5 Mardi Gras beads and they can give them to their friend[s] … hopefully by the end of commencement, people are covered in beads, you know, like just- just silly kind-of, fun stuff.”

For him, this reflected positively on how the voices of the various people on the committee were being taken into account. He remarked that “they seem to be really excited about silly, fun stuff. And I’m all about silly fun stuff. … That was an unexpected emphasis in the conversation that I was excited about.”

Hatcher also had different expectations for how the meeting was going to be run. He said, “I thought it was going to be like a bunch of students coming together and be[ing] like ‘This is how it went last year. This is what I think for this year’ but there’s actually a lot of just, you know, official people talking about what they were planning.”

The people leading the meeting also suggested a single commencement for all three campuses. Hatcher explained that, “they didn’t make it sound like it was plausible, but they weren’t shooting it down either. People were trying to, like, give ideas [as to] how it would be plausible.”

There were several other topics discussed, including the best parts of graduation, pacing, and others such as a drop-in graduation, where students can grab their diploma and the people in charge can “just keep it [the ceremony] going all day and people can come and get their picture and all that kind of stuff,” according to Kinsey.

Hatcher and Kinsey both had comments about whether or not they felt their voices were being taken into consideration.

Hatcher highlighted particular moment during the first meeting, “I mentioned that veterans had wanted to be acknowledged during the ceremony, and somebody gave me a snide comment saying, ‘well there’s Larimer!’” 

Asked whether he felt like his voice was being taken into consideration, Hatcher said “I did think that when I was asking about … what the ceremony was gonna look like, that comment was taken seriously. So, so far I would say yes.”

However, he did further touch on the aforementioned comment and added that “I won’t take it negatively until, you know, further down the line because, I mean, from what [Larimer Campus SGA President] Jacquie’s told me, it sounds like she’s really worried that our voice isn’t gonna be heard. And to have that, you know, somebody say that … kinda reinforces that idea.”

The committee also was transparent about how their role was not actually making decisions, but rather recommendations. Hatcher explained that, “they highlighted a couple times that what we were doing was making recommendations and [that] it wasn’t that we were, like, making decisions.”

Professor Kinsey felt that, “one of the consequences of the college restructuring is that things are happening so fast and a lot of the traditional roles are changing so fast that it’s hard to know if you’re being heard because you don’t know who would be listening or who’s like, whose responsibility it is to respond to or acknowledge whatever you’re doing.”

He continued that “I had, like, asked the rest of the faculty what their concerns were. And a lot of them were concerned about the possibility of commencement being reduced to a single event, like all three campuses going to one event … That isn’t their intention. What their intention is, their stated intention, is to increase engagement and solve the practical problem of finding a place for Westminster to have its commencement. So those are the top goals.”

As for the committee being only a recommendation-making committee and not a decision-making one, Kinsey also responded that it seemed like a standard position for administration and that “there is that mixed message of ‘we want you to participate, but we don’t necessarily wanna acknowledge’, like, ‘acknowledge anything that you said’, and I’m kinda used to that. But the way that I approach that is always just looking for consistency. Like, if you say A and then do B, I’m gonna point out that you contradicted yourself every single time. So I just hold people to the integrity of their position.”

As for other concerns, Kinsey replied that the budget was another. He added, “Larimer and Westminster spend about $30,000 … and Boulder spends about $11,000 [for each of their commencements].”

He continued on to voice his concerns for the cost of elevating the brand, “It’s a very important thing … [it seems like it] would be possible to do that for at least $10,000 less than that.”

FRCC students, staff, and faculty gather at First Bank Center in Broomfield, Colo to celebrate commencement on May 15, 2019. Photo by Ezra Ekman.

The Transitional Commencement Committee’s second meeting took place on September 28th.

One of the many focuses of this meeting was using a map of each student’s address to gauge how far each student lives from whichever campus or campuses they attend. According to Ryan Lambert, Director of Institutional Research at FRCC, “[determining] how far students drive for their day-to-day commute serves as a baseline for how far students are willing to commute for commencement.”

This baseline, according to John Kinsey, serves as a way to “pick a venue that’s the most convenient for the most people.”

As for the data, it has been determined that “the average student travels 15 minutes to their declared campus.  Averages are skewed by very short and very long drives, so we also calculated that 2/3 of our students have a 28 minute drive or less to campus”, according to Lambert.

Despite this data, Kinsey acknowledged several problems with the address system. “We’re just working with the address that students give us. That may not be where they actually live, like that could be their parents’ house … a lot of people [are] probably in roommate situations where they’re moving around a lot,” he said.

In this meeting, the idea of two different commencements, one in the winter and the other in spring, was also proposed; however, Marketing and Facilities both pushed back against this idea.

Kinsey said of Marketing’s reasoning behind this, “Marketing is pushing towards centralizing having a single commencement for everybody in one place at one time. The justification for that is that they want to elevate the brand by giving everyone as similar an experience as possible so that everyone would have the same memories and pictures.”

As for Facilities, he said that they were “pushing back against Marketing’s idea of centralizing the commencement, because they said that different campuses historically have done it differently … If we did it all at once, different campuses would be at … three wildly different stages of preparedness [for certain aspects]. That could be really bad.”

Kinsey also disregarded the idea of one commencement, responding that “I don’t think it’s a practical reality because we’re talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of 900 [students]. Like, can you imagine reading 900 people’s names? … I’m all for helping people have a great experience, but that just sounds like a practical nightmare.”

Partial unification- with just two ceremonies instead of three, is also an option being explored, with particular attention paid to the idea that students on the Boulder campus could join students on the Larimer campus for their commencement. 

“Traditionally, the Westminster commencement is the size of Boulder and Larimer combined. So if we found [an event center] that could house Westminster at, you know, an affordable price, then it would make sense to get one that could house the same number of people that would be more convenient for Boulder and Larimer,” Kinsey answered.

He did acknowledge, on that point, that “Larimer trickles all the way up into the mountains … People that go to Larimer usually drive half an hour to 45 minutes to get to campus, usually from the north.” He also acknowledged that “that’s gonna be a hard sell. I think that’s the more affordable route, but we’ll see what happens.”

As for finding Westminster Campus a venue, some more venues were researched and proposed. There was a list of eight venues total that was compiled, with some of these including the Hilton, the Hyatt Regency, the Fillmore Auditorium, and even the Denver Zoo, per Kinsey.

Despite this progress, Kinsey “appreciate[s] letting the conversation go forward organically, but I also think that they severely underestimated how complicated this is gonna be and being able to successfully come up with answers in the timeline that they’ve given. I am thrilled to see what the next meeting [brings].”

He also felt “these things are happening so fast that you can’t communicate effectively, like I’m trying to communicate to everybody. … I’m sure there’s still a not insignificant portion of faculty who are concerned with the problem from, like, 3 weeks ago that is no longer even relevant.”

He concluded, “I anticipate that people who are acting with outdated information or information based on speculation, they’re gonna, like, you know, be upset about things that don’t even exist, you know, and that’s terrible. … And that problem also exacerbates the impression that their feedback is invaluable.”

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