Survey asks juniors to vote on 2014 commencement location

121205_JUNIOR_CLASS_SURVEY_INFOGRAPHICSt. Thomas’ Class of 2014 is the largest to date with 1,539 students. However, with graduation only a year away, size is an issue for planning commencement, especially if it rains.

The Office of Student Affairs sent an email to the junior class Monday asking the students to participate in a one-question survey regarding commencement. Students were asked to vote on whether to hold the ceremony on campus and have their guests view the ceremony via video stream on campus in case of rain, or if they would rather have the ceremony off campus in a location that could accommodate more friends and family.

In recent years, the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex has been the commencement ceremony’s rain site. Two guests per graduate were invited to watch the ceremony in the field house and any additional guests watched a video stream elsewhere on campus.

However, because of the junior class’ size, only graduates and faculty would fit in the field house for the ceremony. Family members, friends, staff and other students would have to watch commencement via video screenings from remote locations on campus.

Junior Matt Boehm said he didn’t like the idea of guests having to watch the ceremony from a video screen.

“I think it would be important to have everybody there watching. I’m not really down with the whole video idea,” Boehm said.

Liz Pojar, constituent relations program manager and commencement coordinator, said this is the first time students have been surveyed on commencement.

“We wanted to give every member of the junior class the opportunity to respond,” Pojar said. “So we decided the survey would be the best way.”

The off-campus commencement location would most likely be the Minneapolis Convention Center, with the Mall of America Field being another posibility.

“When we have (commencement) on campus and in the football stadium, we plan for about nine to 10,000 people total, and the Convention Center has space where we could have 10,000 people in one place,” Pojar said.

While the survey may have seemed premature to students since graduation is more than year away for them, Pojar said it was necessary to send it early to determine if the Convention Center would need to be booked.

Pojar said the number of guests students are allowed to bring is not likely to be limited if there is room.

“We don’t limit the number of guests students are allowed to bring if we have space for 10,000 people,” Pojar said. “If we need to limit, I usually say no more than eight, but we usually don’t even get to that point.”

Pojar said there are pros and cons to each option.

“It’s easier off campus just because everybody is in one location if the weather is inclement,” Pojar said. “But I love having it on campus too, because if the weather is great, it’s perfect in the stadium. But you take a big chance having it on campus with the weather.”

Junior Bonnie Wu said while she prefers to have the commencement on campus, she chose the off-campus option so her parents would be guaranteed to be in the same room to see her walk.

Junior Kelly Johnson turned to her parents, who will be attending the ceremony, to help her make a decision.

“I wanted it on the football field because that’s traditional, and I would like that better,” Johnson said. “But, when I saw the email I actually talked to my parents, and they really wanted it to be a guarantee that they could see me, so I chose off campus.”

If the off-campus option is selected, this will be one of two times a St. Thomas commencement would be held off campus. The other off-campus commencement was in 2010, when the ceremony was held at Mall of America Field because the rain site, the AARC field house, was still being built.

Johnson said the administration made a wise decision to survey the junior class, rather than just making the decision on its own.

“I like that we were surveyed because I think if the decision was just made for us, people would have criticized and said that we didn’t get a say at all,” Johnson said. “I feel like it is going to kind of be a big issue.”

Boehm said he was glad that students are able to voice their opinions in the survey.

“It’s a good idea to get students’ input,” Boehm said. “Especially because we’ve put in the work over the years and want it to be a good ceremony for everybody.”

Plans for large future classes

While the 2015 and 2016 classes have been large as well, Pojar said the administration is focused on the class of 2014 for now. Any decisions for future commencements will be made by the new president and the president’s staff.

“With the new president coming in, that person might have ideas about how they want (commencement) to look or where they want it to be,” Pojar said. “So for now, we can really only make the decision for the class of 2014.”

Freshman Tony Hegseth said he hopes his class will get a say in choosing the location of their graduation when the time comes.

“A survey would be nice, because if the day came and it started to rain everyone would just be out of luck,” Hegseth said.

After the survey closes Friday and results are collected, they will be shown to the Rev. Dennis Dease’s staff, which will make the executive decision about the commencement location. Pojar said she thinks their decision will most likely be made early this spring.

“It’s the student’s preference, but we want the families to be happy as well,” Pojar said. “So whatever that would take.”

Gabrielle Martinson can be reached at