Survey to Gauge Student Opinion on Potential Changes to Future Finals Weekends

April 10, 2014

An upcoming survey will provide University of Virginia students an opportunity to weigh in on modifications under consideration for Finals Weekends 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. This year’s events will not be affected.

“Renovations to the Rotunda will protect the University’s most valuable physical asset, but we can’t avoid the project affecting Finals Weekend after this year,” said President Teresa A. Sullivan. “Giving future graduates a strong voice in the planning process will help ensure that graduation ceremonies will remain meaningful and memorable to students and their families.”

Sullivan is inviting members of the classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017 via emails to complete the survey, and students are encouraged to discuss the menu of Final Exercises options with their families and friends before responding. Students also will have an opportunity to learn more about the possible Finals Weekend modifications at a town hall set for Monday at 6 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom.

Reflecting the University’s commitment to student self-governance, Sullivan requested the formation of a Graduation Advisory Committee to generate options for a re-imagined Finals Weekend. The committee includes undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and administrators.

“Each committee member fully recognizes the importance of the tradition of ‘walking the Lawn’ for students about to become graduates during Final Exercises,” said committee member Will Laverack, incoming president of the Class of 2015. “Every option that will be put forth for comment in the survey will protect that tradition.”

Graduation ceremonies currently occur over two days and include all the pomp and circumstance of a university commencement. Valedictory Exercises occur on Saturday on the Lawn and feature a keynote speaker and presentation of University-wide awards. Tickets are typically not required.

Final Exercises now are held on Sunday. In a scene straight from a postcard, students and faculty members form a colorful procession down the center of the Lawn, flanked by friends and family. The typical crowd of about 25,000 jams the length of the Lawn from Old Cabell Hall to the Rotunda steps. (In inclement weather, events may be moved to locations including John Paul Jones Arena.)

Currently, each graduate gets three tickets for guest seats. Ticketed guests sit on the lower three Lawn levels. 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 ceremony begins with about 6,000 graduates walking down the Lawn to their seats. For some, the academic procession follows a path down the Rotunda steps. But in May 2015, a construction barrier will close the building and a perimeter area to pedestrian traffic.

In her message, Sullivan asks students to rank-order the options advanced by the Graduation Advisory Committee. The survey will be available online between April 16 and April 22.

The options are:

  • Keep Final Exercises on the Lawn, but sharply limit the number of guests. For 2015, each graduate would receive two guest tickets, rather than three. A standing-room-only area used in previous ceremonies would no longer be available.
  • Hold two Final Exercises ceremonies on the Lawn, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Ceremonies for the College of Arts & Sciences would be held on one day and those for all other schools on the other. Under this option, Valedictory Exercises may be moved to Friday.
  • Students walk the Lawn on the way to Scott Stadium, where Final Exercises would be held. This option presents the most dramatic change, but also provides a benefit of unlimited guest seating at the stadium.

Additional information about each option will be provided on the survey site and at the upcoming town hall meeting.

“Finals Weekend represents a time for students and families to celebrate success and to look forward to the start of a new chapter,” Sullivan said. “We want this experience to remain special, so I encourage our students to carefully review the options and respond to the survey.”

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