Commencement changes with growing university

This year’s undergraduate commencement will be held on May 24 at 7 p.m. to accommodate the large class size.



Students prepare to walk up to the stage during fall commencement. In order to improve the retention rate, Biola is working on implementing better academic planning for students. | Job Ang/THE CHIMES

Anna Frost, Writer

Students prepare to walk up to the stage during fall commencement. | Job Ang/THE CHIMES [file photo]

Undergraduate commencement has remained unchanged at Biola for over a decade. However, the ceremony is changing this year in response to growing graduation class sizes and past complaints about the ceremony.

Instead of the traditional Saturday morning, the ceremony will take place on Friday, May 24 at 7 p.m.


Nicole Heisinger, class of 2012, remembers her commencement running smoothly last year and felt that it was well organized. Her classmate, Lydia Ness, agreed but said that she would have preferred the Friday commencement instead of Saturday morning, especially since she would have had more time to get ready.

“I probably would have preferred that because it would still be light outside at the time and comfortable … I remember waiting until Saturday [to graduate] seems like forever,” Ness said.


Graduates will also have the whole weekend to celebrate with family and friends, though Biola is throwing a celebration for graduates on Friday night as well.

Following commencement, Alumni Relations will hold the first university-wide, post-commencement reception, instead of each department holding a separate receptions, said Deannah Baesel, manager of advancement events.

Since Alumni Relations is funding the event, departments won’t have to reserve part of their budget for the reception, she said. Graduates will also be able to mingle with their peers from other majors, bringing them together for the last time before they leave Biola.

“We can all be together, rather than being scattered across campus,” Baesel noted.

There is no set schedule for the reception, just a time to celebrate the graduates, Baesel said. Light refreshments and snacks will be available for graduates and their friends and family at the reception, which will be held in Chase Gymnasium and outside in the area surrounding the Fireplace Pavilion and mailboxes, she said.

“I mean, who doesn’t want free cookies at 9:30 at night?” Baesel quipped.


The late hour, however, could interfere with proud parents taking the traditional post-commencement photos with their graduate and their diploma holder, since not as much light will be available as compared to the daytime.

When asked how she felt about taking photos at night, senior kinesiology major Kaela Vogt said that she wasn’t too worried. She is just planning on meeting up with people beforehand while it was still light, she said. Other seniors said that they had similar plans to take photos earlier in the day.

“I think having the entire day … there’s plenty of time before the 5:30 p.m. rehearsal to be with friends and family,” senior business accounting major Lucas Laird said.

In addition, graduates will have the opportunity to take photos with family and faculty at the reception. Red, gray and white backdrops with Biola’s logo, similar to backdrops with company logos seen at Hollywood events, will be set up with lighting so graduates can take nice photos, she explained.

“It will be like Biola’s red carpet for graduates,” Baesel said.

Lighting will be provided so graduates can capture their graduation memories with friends, family and faculty, without the lack of daylight interfering with photo quality, Baesel stated.

The dramatic switch in Biola commencement tradition can be a cause of anxiety for grads as this once-in-a-lifetime event approaches. However, the changes were carefully considered and based off previous concerns to make the ceremony more enjoyable for everyone, Victoria Smith, associate director of university events, wrote in an email.

“Commencement is such a momentous occasion … we felt it our duty to address these concerns and look at the event with fresh eyes to ensure that we are giving our guests the kind of commencement experience they deserve,” Smith wrote.


This year’s graduates and their guests will not have to endure the Southern California late-May heat since the ceremony begins at 7 p.m. In previous years, the heat during the long ceremony caused guests discomfort, Smith wrote. Elderly guests have experienced health problems because of the high temperatures, she wrote.

Graduating seniors agreed that the cooler temperature will be a perk.

“I am looking forward to not sitting in the direct sunlight and sweating in my gown,” Vogt said.

Guests have also frequently been frustrated that they could not see their graduate walk across the stage during commencement, Smith wrote. The large amount of people made it hard to have a view from the audience, even for those who arrived early to try and secure better seats, she said.

Holding the commencement in the evening makes it possible to project video onto the screens, solving the issues with visibility. Using projection during the day is very expensive because the sunlight is so bright, but its possible to have projection at a reasonable price in the evening, said Colleen Heykoop, director of Parent Relations.

“As commencement has gotten bigger and bigger, family members are often quite far from the stage and aren’t able to see their student walk across the stage, so having the ability to use projection is certainly going to allow everybody to have a better experience,” Heykoop explained.

Large screens will project the stage, which will be built off the front of Calvary Chapel, to the entire audience, Smith wrote. This enables everyone to see the entire ceremony, which includes commencement speaker, Saddleback Church co-founder and Christian author Kay Warren.


This issue stemmed from the growing size of Biola’s undergraduate classes, while the ceremony was still designed to accommodate a smaller class size and therefore fewer guests, Smith wrote.

Although the commencement ceremony has not changed in more than a decade, graduating classes have almost doubled over the last 14 years, according to a report from the registrar office. With an increase of 267 graduates from the Class of 1999, the spring of 2012 saw 552 students receive diplomas.

The class of 2013 has the biggest increase in class size in 14 years. This spring's commencement ceremony is expected to have 650 graduates, plus their guests.

Heykoop polled the Parent Council, which is composed of parents from across the country, about the proposed changes before University Communications & Marketing decided on the new structure.

There has been concern voiced about the switch to Friday, especially since graduates and their families were notified of the graduation date during the fall 2012 semester, Heykoop said. So far, she has only heard of one person’s relative, a grandmother, who could not attend the graduation because it was on a Friday.

Vogt, who is from Northern California, expressed some concern about her family getting off work to travel down and make it to the ceremony.

However other graduating seniors feel that they were informed of the day with plenty of time for their families to make it down for this special occaision.

“It’s definitely something that you work four years for so they’ll take out the time to do it,” Tim Engle, a senior communications major from Oregon, said.

As in previous years, live webcasts will be available for the undergraduate and graduate ceremonies to accommodate relatives and friends who cannot make the ceremony, according to Biola’s commencement website.

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