Doctoral students upset about inability to attend commencement

Published On:
Friday, April 17, 2009
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Graduation policies for commencement this May are making some doctoral students expecting to graduate in August upset that they cannot attend the highly anticipated ceremony.

All students graduating in May can attend commencement, as can all bachelor’s and master’s degree students graduating in August, but ceremonial procedures require doctoral candidates to complete all portions of their course work before attending commencement.

“At commencement, a doctoral student’s degree is conferred right there by name,” said Michael Dickson, assistant dean of admissions for the Graduate College.

Bachelor’s and master’s degree students are recognized as a group during the ceremony and are considered recipients of their degrees if they have completed their course work. Bachelor’s and master’s degree students who will have completed their course work in August can still attend, but are not yet considered graduates. But since doctoral candidates are recognized individually, Dickson said doctoral students must be finished with their work in order to participate in the ceremony.

Dickson said some doctoral students set to graduate in August have contacted him, upset that they would not be able to attend commencement, where President Barack Obama will speak.

Christine Vassett, a doctoral candidate in rhetoric and composition who is set to graduate in August, said she was disappointed the University would not allow summer doctoral graduates to participate.

“You should be able to make an exception [for] this very, very rare occasion,” she said.

Vassett said she understands that the University’s policy is to uphold the standards of a doctorate, but she said commencement is only ceremonial, and the degree will still be held until all the work is done.

“For the rest of our lives, I’m going to feel snubbed by ASU,” she said. “They really could have been more accommodating.”

Sherry Robertson, a doctoral candidate in the English department planning to graduate in August, said she sees both sides of the issue.

She supports her colleagues who want to participate in commencement this May, but she said she also understands the University’s reasoning for its graduation policy.

“Going into it, I knew the rules,” she said. “I understood all along when I’m eligible for graduation.”

The Graduate College strongly encouraged students to apply to graduate this semester so they could attend commencement, she said, but with dissertations to complete, many were not able to meet the deadline.

She added that dissertations, which must be completed to receive a doctorate, require a great amount of time and work, so it is possible that students set to graduate in August could have to push that date back even further.

Though Roberston said she supports those wishing to attend commencement, she would personally not feel comfortable attending without having completed her requirements.

“I really would not feel official if I did not have the credentials to be participating,” she said.

Reach the reporter at adam.sneed@asu.edu.