Unified Sendoff for Degree Ceremonies

May 1, 2004

Bryan Cole, <i>Hullabaloo</i> news co-editor

Approximately 2,000 Tulane University seniors from all 11 of the schools and colleges will graduate in a unified ceremony held at the Louisiana Superdome for the fifth consecutive year.

"What we took was the honorary degrees and the main speaker and the things that transcended the individual ceremonies and put them into a ceremony that commemorates the experience you have," Earl Retif, a coordinator of the ceremony, said.

The ceremony will be held May 22 in the Louisiana Superdome at 9:30 a.m. and includes music, the keynote speaker and the awarding of a degree to one student from each school, who accepts on behalf of the respective school.

Senator John Breaux, the senior senator from Louisiana, will be the keynote speaker at the ceremony. Breaux has served in the House of Representatives for 14 years and in the Senate for 18 years.

"Generally you want someone who can deliver a decent speech and have some thoughtful things to say," Retif said on the process of selecting a speaker. Retif also went further into the details surrounding the speech. "Getting speakers is a tough game," he said. "Oftentimes speakers want to be paid, which is a huge budget. We haven't paid our speakers traditionally, and we've been very lucky."

Other local universities are also getting political speakers. Louisiana State University's graduates will be listening to a speech by President George W. Bush, and Southern University of New Orleans' keynote speaker is Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Retif pointed out there were drawbacks to these selections.

"Whenever you deal with political figures of that caliber, if something comes up, you get cancelled, and you have nothing," Retif said.

Another feature of the ceremony is the designated degree recipient. President Scott Cowen gives a degree to one student from each school, honoring all of the school's graduates. Jan Mulvihill, coordinator for the Newcomb College commencement, described how the student was selected.

"The designated degree recipient is chosen from each college, and each has its own criteria," she said. "Newcomb's has, in the past few years, been the student with the best GPA."

The remainder of the students receive their degrees in individual ceremonies held by each college later in the day. The ceremonies for Tulane and Newcomb Colleges are also held in the Superdome, while the other schools hold their ceremonies in McAlister Auditorium. Mulvihill stressed the difference between the ceremonies.

"The unified ceremony is very impressive and colorful," Mulvihill said. "It combines tradition with the procession of the administrators and the faculty in their colorful regalia, but ends with a very upbeat atmosphere with New Orleans music and balloons."

The idea of a unified ceremony came to Tulane along with President Scott Cowen in 1999. "Before then, each college had its own ceremony," Retif said. "There was no interaction between the schools, and it was pretty low-key."

Retif disagrees with others who have claimed that holding the ceremony in the Superdome made it less personal. "I know Tulane College, for instance, has long outgrown McAlister Auditorium," Retif said. "It's a fairly impressive show, and we always get good comments from the parents."

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000