No room at gym for graduates?

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When members of Manhattan College’s Class of 2019 first stepped onto the Riverdale campus as freshmen, they knew they were part of the largest graduating class the 165-year-old school had ever seen.

Throughout their collegiate career, each student was proud of their history-making mass, senior Catherine Goodyear said. However, with roughly 852 students set to cross the stage in May to earn their degrees, members of this super-sized class are starting to feel anything but pride.

That’s because to accommodate the class size, their commencement ceremony venue was moved to the Draddy Gymnasium — to many of their dismay. What’s more, it seems the number of tickets available for family and friends were almost reduced from three to two.

“My stance on it is pretty similar with all the other students,” said Joseph Mattone, one of the seniors set to graduate. “Just a lot more disappointed because my father is one of a few people who has donated money to the school out of the Lasallian views the school values. So a part of my family is very disappointed about how the school has handled this.”

The number of tickets handed out to families didn’t stay at two for long. After meeting with frustrated students, Manhattan adjusted the number of tickets available for the May 17 ceremony.

“With registration now mostly done, we have a clearer sense of numbers and are happy to inform you that, as in previous years, each graduating student will receive at least three tickets to the undergraduate commencement ceremony,” Manhattan provost William Clyde wrote in a letter to Class of 2019 families.

But the threat to their tickets wasn’t the only bone Manhattan seniors had to pick with the administration.

Students had gone into summer believing their graduation would be held at Gaelic Park, said another senior, Emma Saul. In the past, students were given three tickets for physically attending the ceremony and another two so other family members could view the ceremony from a live feed at a separate location.

But then Saul and others learned the fire marshal couldn’t approve Gaelic Park as a graduation site because of its lack of exits and handicap accessibility. Space wise, it would accommodate the Class of 2019 and their families. But in terms of fire safety? It wouldn’t work.

That’s something the school has been aware of for two years as administrators considered undertaking the extensive renovations needed to bring Gaelic Park up to snuff. But in the end, it just wasn’t workable, Clyde said.

“We evaluated several factors, including the availability of off-campus sites and our students’ traditional preference for graduating on campus, and determined that Draddy Gymnasium was the best location for commencement,” the provost wrote in his letter.

It takes a village to put a student through college, so it makes sense at least part of that community has a seat at the graduation ceremony, Goodyear said. The two-ticket limit didn’t consider non-traditional families, like stepparents and grandparents. Monika Simikit’s family in southern California and Texas had already bought plane tickets for the ceremony, she said.

“It’s frustrating,” Simikit said. “Why would they watch it on TV when they could have stayed at home and done that? For international students from abroad who don’t see their parents all year — and for that opportunity to be robbed from a lot of students is disappointing, and we just kind of hoped for more.”

Draddy can hold up to 3,600 people, Manhattan College communications director Pete McHugh said. Besides the expected 852 seniors, more than 200 faculty and staff members also are expected to attend, along with graduates’ families. Although students have suggested other venues off-campus, college administrators say they are not considering other spaces.

“We have explored several off-campus options during the past four years, none of which were available with enough advanced notice given our scheduling requirement,” said McHugh in a statement. “After extensive investigation, Draddy Gymnasium remained the only viable option for our 2019 commencement ceremony.”

The gym is not comfortable, especially when it’s packed with people, some of the seniors said. Temperatures inside can reach up to 95 degrees, according to student body president Jaycie Cooper.

In the past, people have passed out from the heat. And with elderly relatives attending, it could be dangerous, Simikit said.

Seniors might be striking out in terms of location, but the school might not be done squeezing out more tickets for families.

The hope, Clyde said in his letter, is to go beyond even the traditional three tickets per family, and increase it to four.

“When we were all freshman, we’ve had lectures and talks and they made us be proud to be the largest graduating class in Manhattan college history,” Goodyear said. “A lot of students are questioning why have we given so much to the school if they aren’t having their biggest accomplishment being rewarded back.”

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