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Students say Cal State Long Beach graduation plans deflate graduation cheer


Joshua Biragbara imagined that walking across the stage at a university graduation ceremony and hearing his name called out to a packed crowd would be the reward for all the years he’d fought. He had worked his way up through Cal State University Long Beach, after dropping out of community college and working a series of jobs that included barista and warehouse worker.

“I’ve been in and out of school for seven years,” said the 25-year-old. “I thought once I graduate, it would be like a highlight.”

But Biragbara and thousands of other students will miss out on those fleeting moments on stage when they graduate from Cal State Long Beach in May. That’s because university officials, for the third year in a row, decided to forego the ritual of reading graduates’ names as they walk across the stage to ceremonially receive their degrees.

A university spokesman said it is “not practical on this scale” to individually recognize graduates by reading their names during major graduation ceremonies. The spokesperson noted that some cultural groups and individual departments will host smaller ceremonies where students can expect their names to be read.

Instead, the university will project the names of graduates onto a jumbotron during the May commencement ceremony at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. The organizers will also create “recognition stages” where students can scan personalized QR codes that trigger a slideshow and an announcement of their names, as they walk up a ramp in their caps and gowns out of the stadium.

The students are outraged. They say they feel deprived of another quintessential college experience, after much of their education has already been disrupted by the pandemic.

They are pressuring the university to rescind its decision, in a online petition which had generated more than 16,000 signatures in three weeks. They contacted the media and posted flyers around campus that read “Let ’23 walk.” Hundreds of students have also signed up to a Discord server where they can vent their frustrations and share information with each other.

“Before COVID, they were doing a regular ceremony on campus calling names and having students walk across the stage,” said Zeina Elrachild, a fourth-year molecular biology student who started the online petition. “I don’t see why they can’t try a little harder to make it happen for us.”

Elrachild, whose best friends have booked plane tickets to the ceremony from Tennessee, said she wants her moment on stage to make her parents proud.

“I want them to see me walk across the stage,” he said. “It’s what I’ve been imagining my whole life.”

For Amelie Hernández, 22, the issue is also a matter of respect.

“We all deserve a spotlight with our names read,” he said. “Being called by name emphasizes that we are important at school. And having our names on a screen, it just doesn’t feel the same.”

The ritual has additional importance in his family, he said, because his mother is legally blind. “Having him hear my name during the ceremony would really mean a lot.”

The pandemic disrupted high school and college graduations across the country for two years. Campuses got inventive in trying to commemorate student achievement while remaining public health conscious: organizing passing ceremoniesor moving the parties completely online. Many colleges and universities have returned to conventional graduation ceremonies by 2022.

At Cal State Long Beach, which has held its graduation at Angel Stadium since 2021, about 14,700 students are eligible to graduate in May, according to the university. The graduation ceremony is not one large ceremony, but a series of smaller ceremonies, divided by colleges within the university and spread over three days.

Marilyn Gaona, a fourth-year criminology major, said students are particularly upset that the pandemic has already deprived them of many educational and social experiences.

Walking across the stage in front of his family and peers would symbolize how much Gaona had accomplished as a first-generation student and the first person in his Mexican-American family to graduate from college. But after learning about the graduation plans, Gaona said that his parents decided not to go.

They will celebrate their daughter’s achievement. But “they will not sit in the sun just to listen to the administration talk for three hours,” they said.

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