UA plans commencement ceremonies

Katherine Martin

The University has announced it will hold three commencement ceremonies and a candlelight remembrance on Aug. 5 and 6 to award more than 4,000 graduates with diplomas and honor six UA students who died in the April 27 tornado.

Graduation, which was originally scheduled for May 7, was postponed after the EF-4 tornado hit Tuscaloosa.

Judy Bonner, provost and executive vice president, said the decision to have three ceremonies was based on the record number of graduates participating.

“At all UA commencement ceremonies, we provide an opportunity for each graduate to walk across the stage and shake hands with both the dean and the president,” Bonner said. “We wanted to provide an ample opportunity to honor our students without making the ceremony too long for the graduates and their families.”

Based on the Registrar’s Office’s survey of May candidates for degrees regarding their intent to participate in the commencement exercises in August and estimates from previous August ceremonies, we estimate that close to 4,000 students will participate, Bonner said.

“Since many of our students were not in Tuscaloosa to attend the earlier memorial service, we felt it was appropriate to have a time during the commencement weekend when the University community could remember the students who lost their lives in the tornado and reflect on the impact of the storm on everyone,” she said.

The candlelight remembrance will be at 8:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 5 on the steps of Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library. In addition, the University will award posthumous degrees to the students who died in the tornado during the 9 a.m. ceremony on Saturday. These students will also be remembered at the 2 p.m. ceremony.

Michael Wynn, a first year law student, worked with Bonner and Mark Nelson, vice president for student affairs and vice provost, to plan the graduation events and said the ceremonies will provide closure and finality for graduates whose semester ended abruptly.

“I’m glad the University is making a point to give students that are coming back the appropriate recognition they deserve,” he said. “I think the biggest success is the fact they’re doing the candlelight vigil on the steps of Gorgas. I think that’ll be the most moving and special acknowledgement.”

The fact that the University stepped up and decided to recognize and honor graduates is the most important thing, Wynn said.

“I’ll be excited to see what else happens on graduation day in the different celebrations,” he said.

Catherine Booker, a public relations graduate, said even though the planned commencement celebrations are a good plan, she won’t be attending. Booker said she and her family had already planned a vacation for the end of summer so it wouldn’t interfere with May graduation plans.

“I do think that it is a good way to remember exactly what happened, and it’s the right thing to do have the ceremony,” Booker said. “At the same time, I don’t think that that many people are going to participate because every one is scattered and has jobs.”

Booker said not having walked across the stage leaves her college career feeling unfinished.

“I will probably miss not having graduated, but I understand that under these circumstances they couldn’t have done anything differently,” she said.

Booker said graduates shouldn’t hold grudges if they weren’t able to walk.

“It was such a tragic way to end everything,” she said. “The candlelight vigil will outshine everything else. People just need to remember those that lost their lives and those that lost love ones.”