“Our Charger Pride is nearing extinction:” Students share about cancellation of winter commencement

The University of New Haven’s Commencement Committee has announced it would no longer hold winter commencement ceremonies, and students aren’t thrilled.

According to the campus-wide email announcing the change, the decision was made to “maximize the celebration of our Commencement ceremonies held each Spring.” The email also said, “We are confident this will enable us to further enrich the traditional Commencement experience,” by “returning to an on-campus celebration.”

Now, students who graduate in December will attend a Spring Commencement on Sunday, May 15, 2023, at the Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater in Bridgeport.

While the committee detailed in the email that this decision would enrich the commencement experience, students at the university aren’t happy about it.

Some students took to the anonymous Instagram page, “@unh_afterdark,” to express discontent. On March 1, the page posted an anonymous submission from a student that said, “To the people who were supposed to have their Winter 2022 ceremony taken from them, I’m truly sorry for you… How is taking away a ceremony meant to reward students for all their hard work…. ‘enhancing’ their experience?’”

Students also took to the university’s Instagram page. On the university’s most recent post, multiple people commented the hashtag “#bringbackwintercommencement.”

The same day the news was announced, a petition went up on Change.org, called “Reconsider Winter 2022 Commencement Ceremony at University of New Haven,” and, as of Sunday, gained nearly 900 signatures out of their 1,000 signature goal. The petition’s description said, “The fact that the University now decided to take the one last ‘real’ college experience we should have gotten… is appalling.”

Caitlin DeLuke, a junior forensic science major who is graduating in winter 2022, helped create the petition, and said she was “taken aback by the email we received,” and “noted a few flaws within it.”

She said, “First, the email states ‘We reached this conclusion following extensive discussions with University leadership and members of our community.’ Who are these community members? Surely it wasn’t the student body, who… [has] shown amazing support in our petition regardless of if this graduation cancellation affects them personally.”

DeLuke also said she wished the decision had included input from the student body. She said, “Discussions should have been had prior to making this decision, as I firmly believe not a single student would agree with this choice.”

“We created our petition in hopes that the university reconsiders their decision… They let us pursue our education, get to the year of our reward… and then took our one show of pride away… At the very least, I am hoping the university reconsiders their decision impacting Winter 2022 graduates.”

“I want them to know that our Charger Pride is nearing extinction… I want them to do better for us,” DeLuke said, while also mentioning her hopes for the university to reconsider this decision.

Timothy Smith, a junior forensic science major graduating in winter 2022, also helped create the petition. He said, “I feel like the news about the cancellation of Winter Commencement blindsided the students affected by this change. To hear about this news through a casual email on a Monday morning as if it was just another weekly announcement was disheartening and discouraging.”

DeLuke and Smith said that they decided to create this petition to speak up for their interests, as well as those of other students who have worked hard during the pandemic.

Although the plan is already in effect, students are also particularly upset about the disconnect between the experiences of winter and spring graduates. Although spring graduates will get a celebration right after their graduation, winter graduates will wait approximately five months after they leave the university to attend their graduation ceremony.

Katherine Duseau, a genetics and biotechnology major who is graduating in winter 2022, said, “With all the work that I’ve put into school, my accomplishments deserved to be celebrated. Even if I do get the opportunity to walk in the spring I know that my experience would be different. Kind of like celebrating your birthday 3 months late, it takes away the significance.”

Some students wondered how the decision would affect international students, for whom walking in the spring isn’t always plausible.

“We also have to think about the international students that might not be able to make the trip back to walk across the stage months after they’re supposed to graduate,” Smith said.

In response to the ongoing student concerns, the Commencement Committee responded to the perceived disparity between the experiences of winter and spring graduates in an email to The Charger Bulletin.

The Committee said “For those who complete their coursework in the winter, we realize that some time will have elapsed before they are able to take part in a traditional Commencement ceremony. We will, of course, confer degrees when they are completed, but we are hopeful that those who finish their degrees in the Winter will choose to return [for the Spring Commencement.”

The Committee elaborated on their motives for this decision, saying “We believe that a once-a-year Commencement celebration has the advantage of bringing all graduates together at one time,” and that their “Primary focus when planning Commencement is creating a memorable experience befitting of all our graduates… as Chargers.”