Thursday, October 2, 2014

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Student Survey Shows Clear Choice: Keep Final Exercises on The Lawn

Given three options for potential modifications to future Final Exercises, University of Virginia students left little doubt about where they stand on the issue – and where they’d like to stand during the ceremonies.

More than 50 percent of the undergraduate, graduate and professional students who responded to a recent survey said their first choice is for the University to hold two Final Exercises ceremonies on the Lawn.

“The students have spoken loudly and clearly,” U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “Maintaining the traditional Lawn experience while ensuring that the maximum number of friends and family may attend is the clear preference among students, and the University will implement their decision for Finals Weekend beginning in 2015.”

Changes are inevitable because extensive renovations to the Rotunda will require the World Heritage Site to be closed to the public for two years. Work begins immediately after graduation ceremonies in May. The increasing crowd size at Final Exercises has also led to safety concerns, so a long-term solution was necessary for reconfiguring the ceremony.

This year’s graduation events will not be affected. But in May 2015, a construction barrier will close the Rotunda and a perimeter area to pedestrian traffic. The closure will prevent graduates in the academic procession from crossing the Rotunda steps on the way to their seats.

Earlier this semester, Sullivan requested the formation of a Graduation Advisory Committee to generate options for a re-imagined Finals Weekend. The committee, consisting of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and administrators, produced the three options reflected on the survey.

More than 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students – a remarkable 50 percent response rate – completed the survey.

“This extraordinary participation rate impressed everyone,” Sullivan said. “It’s an indication of the passion that students have for Final Exercises and of the vitality of our system of student self-governance.”

In the survey, students were asked to rank three options in order of preference.

Of the 7,181 completed surveys, 3,661 – or 51 percent – ranked the option of holding two ceremonies on the Lawn on two separate days as the first choice. Ceremonies for the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences would be held on one day and those for all other schools on the other.

The second-most-popular selection among survey respondents as the first choice was to maintain ceremonies on the Lawn as they are currently structured, but sharply limit the number of guests. Under that option, each 2015 graduate would have received two guest tickets, rather than three. A standing-room-only area used in previous ceremonies would no longer be available. Almost 30 percent, or 2,144 of survey respondents, ranked this option as their first choice.

Only 19.2 percent, or 1,376 respondents, said their top choice would be for students to walk the Lawn on the way to Scott Stadium, where Final Exercises would be held. Despite the significant change proposed, the option would have provided a benefit of unlimited guest seating at the stadium, plus better access to restrooms and concessions.

Of the students completing the survey, 6,372 were undergraduates and 809 were graduate or professional students. The results were consistent across genders, graduating classes and among undergraduate and graduate students.

“All three options protected the tradition of having students walk the Lawn, but it was clear from the survey results that future graduates didn’t view them equally,” said advisory committee member Will Laverack, incoming president of the Class of 2015. “I’m grateful for the strong participation in the process and now look forward to implementing the option selected and finding ways to ensure that Final Exercises remains special for everyone involved.”

Final Exercises are now held on Sunday, with a large crowd filling the Lawn. Currently, each graduate gets three tickets for guest seats. Those without tickets may watch from a standing-room area on the north end of the Lawn, or from one of 10 remote viewing sites across Grounds.

The new, two-ceremony arrangement will make the crowd sizes for each ceremony smaller, leading to improved safety. This change also will allow for more guest seating tickets being distributed to each graduating student.

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