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Graduate School holds first separate ceremony

Marcela Berrios | Friday, May 18, 2007

For the first time in its 90-year existence, the Graduate School will hand out master’s degrees and doctorates Saturday in a graduation ceremony separate from the undergraduate commencement exercises – a change organizers said would give the University more time to recognize its graduate students individually.

In previous years, graduates students received their diplomas alongside undergraduate seniors. But as a result of the large numbers of combined degree recipients and time constraints, only outstanding doctoral students were recognized during the ceremony.

“I wanted to create an event that would focus attention on our graduate students’ accomplishments and degrees,” University President Father John Jenkins said in a letter to graduate students. “With a separate Graduate School ceremony, all doctoral and master’s degree recipients will be recognized in a special way.”

The new, separate ceremony will include the presentation of the Shaheen Awards, the Graduate School’s highest student distinction, as well as awards for outstanding professors and graduate alumni. In the past, the winners were merely listed on the main commencement program.

“A separate ceremony is, in fact, the norm at many of our peer institutions,” Jenkins wrote. “At Notre Dame, while law and MBA graduates participate in the main commencement, the Law School and MBA program recognize their graduates with a separate ceremony. We, too, want to distinguish – certainly not hide – our graduates because they deserve this special attention.”

Approximately 800 students will receive advanced degrees in engineering, architecture, science, humanities or social sciences Saturday in the Leighton Concert Hall of the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, according to the Graduate School’s Web site. The Law School and the MBA Program in the Mendoza College of Business will continue to host their separate ceremonies for their degree recipients.

The Dean of the Graduate School, Don Pope-Davis, will preside over Saturday’s ceremony, which will feature University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman as its keynote speaker.

A distinguished biochemist, Coleman has served as Michigan’s 13th president since 2002, investing millions of dollars in affirmative action and health care initiatives during her tenure.

Jenkins said he expected Coleman’s address to directly target the postgraduate students’ feelings – something that had not been possible at the combined graduation exercises.

“Typically, the keynote speaker for the main commencement tends to direct his or her remarks to the graduating senior class,” Jenkins wrote. “While these remarks may also be useful for Master’s and Ph.D. recipients, they tend not to speak directly to graduate students’ experiences, aspirations and responsibilities, which are indeed markedly different from those of graduating seniors.”

Jenkins, Pope-Davis and Provost Thomas Burish decided together to hold a separate ceremony “based upon the suggestions of several faculty members and in consultation with the deans of the various colleges,” Jenkins wrote.

Despite their rationale, there were some complaints among the graduate student population after Jenkins announced the decision to hold a separate, smaller ceremony in the Leighton Concert Hall, which can seat as many as 1,000 people. Patty Bueso, who will receive her Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) degree Saturday, said many of her classmates didn’t understand Jenkins’ reasoning.

“I graduated from Notre Dame last year, and I remember sitting there many hours waiting for all the seniors, master’s and Ph.D. students. Everyone was tired and restless,” Bueso said. “Some of the graduate students I know complained when they heard they were having a separate ceremony, but they don’t understand this is a move that will make them and their families more comfortable.”

Jenkins and Burish will be in attendance Saturday, as well as the University’s vice presidents and associate provosts – Dennis Jacobs, Jean Ann Linney and Christine Maziar – and deans Michael Lykoudis from the School of Architecture, Joseph Marino from the College of Science, James Merz from the College of Engineering and Mark Roche from the College of Arts and Letters.