Although many students graduating in April might feel out of place celebrating commencement on the Diag instead of in the Big House, they can take solace in knowing they aren’t the only graduates in the country tossing their caps in an unexpected place.
For the past 32 years, New York University has held its university-wide commencement ceremony in picturesque Washington Square Park, which lies at the heart of NYU’s otherwise urban campus.
But the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation began a renovation project this winter in the park, forcing NYU administrators to look elsewhere for a suitable commencement setting.
While University of Michigan administrators offered graduates Elbel Field or the Diag as alternative commencement venues, NYU whittled down its options to a pair of slightly more well-known locations: Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, or Yankee Stadium.
After looking at the two teams’s game schedules, NYU administrators selected Yankee Stadium, in The Bronx, as the location of this spring’s ceremony.
But for some students, like NYU junior Nick Gupta, the news that commencement would not be held in the park – which, with its iconic arch, is at the core of NYU’s Greenwich Village campus in downtown Manhattan – was met with mixed feelings.
Gupta said the park is what ties NYU’s campus together because much of the rest of NYU’s urban campus consists of buildings that easily blend in with the rest of Greenwich Village.
“The arch is our place,” he said. “It’s the one normal, rational, communal thing you can point to in our college.”
Adam Playford, editor in chief of the Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper, said many students – including Mets fans – were disappointed by the move to Yankee Stadium because they so closely associate Washington Square Park with the university.
“Graduating at Washington Square Park is part of the experience; it’s part of what makes us NYU,” Playford said. “But I think students understand that the administration didn’t have a choice in the renovations.”
The renovations to Washington Square Park are taking place in segments, which means that the park will never be closed entirely, but that it won’t be able to host NYU’s commencement for at least two years, an NYU administrator told the Washington Square News.
NYU spokeswoman Kelly Franklin said the school began looking into alternative locations for commencement as soon as it learned Washington Square Park’s renovations would prevent the school from holding the ceremony there.
NYU administrators went to many of the same lengths as University of Michigan administrators to ensure that this spring’s commencement ceremony retained the same emotional importance for graduating seniors as at the traditional venue.
Just as University of Michigan administrators promised to create a “maize and blue feel” to Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium when the football stadium was still in consideration, NYU administrators offered to do the same in ‘The House that Ruth Built,’ going so far as to suggest recreating the Washington Square arch out of cake frosting.
Just like the University of Michigan, NYU’s senior class council hosted a “Conversations on Commencement” student forum to discuss ways to make Yankee Stadium feel more like Greenwich Village.
Some students interviewed voiced concerns about a commencement outside of Manhattan. Commuting to Yankee Stadium from NYU via subway, for example, means a 22-minute ride, students said.
NYU also had to move the ceremony to May 14, a day earlier than usual, to accommodate the Yankees’ playing schedule.
Jane Timm, a student at NYU and an editor at the Washington Square News, said the Yankees were worried about holding the ceremony one day before a game because cleaning the stadium would take time.
As was the case at the University of Michigan, students at NYU felt their university didn’t solicit enough student input before making the decision to move the ceremony to Yankee Stadium.
Last month, the Washington Square News published an editorial lambasting the NYU administration for not accounting for the opinions of students before deciding on Yankee Stadium.
“Students don’t know what options the university has explored, or how our administrators made the final decision. No one asked us where we’d prefer to graduate,” the editorial read. “While we want to see more transparency in NYU’s policies in general, we think that shutting out students’ voices on such an emotionally resonant issue is absurd.”
The administration spoke with students in 2003 when renovation plans were first announced, but the editorial board thought current students could have been consulted as well, Playford said.
Franklin said finding a large enough venue for the graduating class and their families, one that could hold at least 20,000 people, was a difficult challenge, and forced administrators to look to stadiums as their main options. Yankee Stadium has a capacity of almost 57,000.
“We looked at all available options and weighed various factors – including but not limited to feedback from students, locations related to our core campus, time and date availability, access by public transportation, and the status of the location – before selecting Yankee Stadium,” she said. “The University Senate composed of faculty, students, and administrators voted to conduct the ceremony at the stadium.”
This is the last year that events will be held in Yankee Stadium. The ball club hopes to finish construction of a new stadium, which began in August of 2006, by 2009, according to the stadium’s website.