Graduates complain of poor conditions at commencement ceremony
Amidst fireworks, speeches and Wilbur the Wildcat dancing high above the crowd, some graduates and guests at the UA’s 150th commencement ceremony were left cramped, hot and dissatisfied.
The recent graduates have been speaking out on social media about conditions they were kept in before the ceremony at Arizona Stadium on Saturday.
On the Facebook page “Bear Down Life” operated by the UA, graduates complained they were instructed to wait under the stadium in the direct sun for hours with little access to water. Comments on the page described graduates suffering from heat stroke and losing consciousness while waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Temperatures in central Tucson reportedly reached 99 degrees by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Last year’s ceremony, which was the first in more than 40 years to be held outdoors in Arizona Stadium, was conducted a week earlier, with temperatures more than ten degrees cooler.
Andrea Smiley, associate vice president of University Relations, released a statement in which she apologized to graduates on behalf of the university.
“We know for some the experience before the ceremony was less than ideal,” she said. “And for that we are truly sorry.”
Smiley said that the UA will use the student’s input and concerns to improve future ceremonies. She said that UA recognizes the importance of the ceremony and thanked those involved.
Sara Brenner, a psychology graduate, said that “less than ideal” did not do justice to her experience. She said arrived at 5:30 p.m. as instructed, in hopes of entering. She waited amongst the 4,000 graduates for more than three hours to enter the field for the ceremony.
“We were crammed shoulder to shoulder…there were no instructions,” Brenner said. “It was definitely like a herd of people with no order whatsoever.”
Brenner said she saw three water coolers which were being used to fill small cups with water for the thousands of waiting graduates. She said that there weren’t enough cups, and that she saw no staff or volunteers to address complaints.
Sgt. Filbert Barrera, public information officer for the University of Arizona Police Department, said that UAPD responded to around a dozen cases of heat related health issues. Brenner said she saw a woman near her faint.
Graduates began entering the stadium single file at 7:30 p.m. Brenner said that the earliest arrivals were pushed back to make room for later arrivals. By the time she entered the stadium after 9 p.m., Brenner said there were no seats left and she was instructed to sit behind the screen showing the ceremony proceedings.
“As a student graduating, it’s already such a sentimental day…and instead of making it such a happy moment for us, they made it one of my worst memories here,” Brenner said.
While Meijing Zimmer, a graduate of the Eller College of Management, was fortunate enough to get a seat, she said her experience was tainted by the poor waiting conditions and late start of the ceremony.
Zimmer said she had a similar experience to Brenner. She waited for more than three hours with no water, and ended up entering the stadium after people who arrived after her. Zimmer couldn’t find any staff to address her questions and complaints.
“There was no one there to hear us,” Zimmer said. “We couldn’t find anyone in charge or anyone to talk to.”
Zimmer said her grandparents flew in from Florida for the ceremony. They thought the ceremony would end at 9 p.m., she said, and had to leave to drive back to Phoenix before the ceremony even began