This year’s Spring Commencement at Bowie State University will be different than school graduation ceremonies of years past. Because of thunderstorms, pedestrian safety and complaints about the lack of parking that have marred previous ceremonies, school administrators decided to move the May 17 commencement exercises to the Comcast Center on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park.
Officials said that this decision was made after administrators surveyed students, faculty, staff and alumni, asking if the university community wanted to
move the exercises from the stadium at the historically black university campus to the more spacious arena at the predominantly white one just up the road.
According to the survey’s results, 76 percent of respondents favored College Park’s basketball arena compared to 23 percent who preferred Bowie’s Bulldog Stadium.
But some people don’t agree that the school should have made this move. Opponents of the shift to College Park say that the graduating seniors’ most meaningful college memory will be played out on another campus. After the ceremony there will be little room for nostalgia. There will be no Wiseman Student Center, Harriett Tubman Residential Hall, Alex Haley Student Residential Complex or Thurgood Marshall Library at your immediate disposal to show friends and relatives where you ate, slept and studied for four years. All these places where you have probably created countless memories will be a memory. Even with efforts to recreate the Bulldogs’ signature black and gold, invariably the red and white of Terp Nation will bleed through.
Supporters of the move argue that graduates won’t have to worry about elderly relatives fainting from heat exhaustion after a trek from the Route 197 main entrance to the stadium at the 187-acre campus’ farthest corner. And they won’t have to worry about being forced into the cramped gym if it rains. The Comcast Center holds 17,950. Bulldog Stadium holds 3,300.
Still, a broader issue looms over the traditional spring rite of passage.
Bowie State University’s senior alumni and others have argued against this move based on historical principle. They recall the dark days of segregation when bright, young, ambitious black students were barred from attending the University of Maryland. After legal segregation was struck down, the first courageous, pioneering black undergraduate student, Hiram Whittle, likely endured resentment and misery throughout his matriculation.
While it is true that the Class of 2013 is decades removed from that reality - and today more than 12 percent of the University of Maryland’s students are African-American - it still feels somewhat disrespectful to our forbearers to celebrate one of academia’s most cherished customs at the site of a former agent of segregation.
Still, Bowie State’s relationship with College Park is complicated. Bowie State, just as the other schools in the University System of Maryland, relies on the flagship campus for resources, such as library access and hand-me-down gym equipment. Like the perpetual dependence of developing countries on the more industrialized areas of the world, the smaller schools in the state system have been forced to rely on College Park for resources. The fact that we are scheduled to use their lavishly funded and spacious Comcast Center reflects this reality.
On the other hand, this year’s commencement ceremony at College Park could be viewed as a sign of triumph over the policies of yesteryear and a validation of their extinction. We will gather at a place that at one time prohibited our instruction and edification. This setting will be transformed into a place where we will symbolically complete this level of education.
When I walk across the stage at Comcast Center, I will be euphoric. Alongside the onslaught periodic flashbacks of all the good and stressful times that I wanted to quickly get through, I will be anxiously anticipating what the days ahead may bring, wondering why yesterday left so soon. This will be accompanied with a background noise of the, nearly 20,000, assortment of family, friends, faculty, alumni, students, who’s enthusiasm will most likely surpass mine as they cheer on their graduates (not to mention the presence of the First Lady).
I think that commencement is a ceremony that is powerful --- whether on campus or off. We should remain focused on the core of what the day means: commencement marks a collective achievement for a class of scholars advancing to the next chapter in their lives. So let’s embrace this year’s commencement with the same energy, love and Bulldog pride.
Auburn A . Mann is editor of The Spectrum, Bowie State’s student newspaper. He is a graduating senior with a print journalism major.