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story | Alysha Chandra
photo | Yale-NUS Public Affairs
Some members of the Class of 2018 have expressed dissatisfaction after finding out that several details of their graduation ceremony, such as choice of graduation speaker, have been decided without student input. The Graduation Committee which plans Graduation 2018, has no student representative, and only comprises members from different administrative departments such as the Dean of Students (DoS) Office, Public Affairs, and Registry. Unlike Graduation 2017, there is also no student committee for Graduation 2018.
This comes after an uproar earlier this year when the Class of 2017 student graduation committee announced that the College intended to dissolve them. There was also concern over the committee’s claim that their suggestions had been repeatedly overridden, including recommendations for the choice of the graduation speaker.
Yale President Emeritus Richard Levin was chosen as the 2017 graduation speaker even though he was not on the list of speakers submitted by the student committee. Pericles Lewis, then President of the College, said the College had made it clear that when the students’ first choices were not available, the president would select the speaker.
The College also chose the graduation speaker for Graduation 2018. According to Executive Vice President (Administration) and chair of the Graduation Committee, Kristen Lynas, Mr. Lewis, and the College’s current president, Tan Tai Yong, selected NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan as the speaker, in collaboration with the governing board.
“There was a really strong sentiment of paying tribute to our founders who have been working for almost a decade now to develop this school,” Ms. Lynas said. “Given that Richard Levin spoke in the first year, having Tan Chorh Chuan speak this year, especially [since] he’s stepping down as president of NUS, would be meaningful.”
Mr Tan said that the decision was made without being able to communicate with the students. “I think we were in a way constrained by the fact that it was the first two years. Beyond that, I think it is healthier to go out of the governing board,” Mr. Tan said.
Mr. Tan said that he hopes the Class of 2019’s graduation committee would make a very early call for student suggestions and give some guidance on the kinds of speakers that would be useful for the occasion.
However, Saza Faradilla ’18 said, “It is not the choice of Tan Chorh Chuan as the speaker but the lack of student involvement, that troubles me.”
Ms. Lynas said that according to preliminary discussions, “future speaker selections would be made through developing a realistic shortlist of speakers and gathering student input on the priorities of invitations”.
When asked about the student graduation committee, Ms. Lynas said that student input was involved in Graduation 2017 because the College was deciding many things such as the design of the graduation gown for the first time. And these things will only be decided once in the history of the school, she said.
“That makes it much easier this year, so this [year’s] committee is a fairly operational [one], dealing with a lot of logistics,” she said.
Kavya Gopal ’18 said that even though many decisions have already been made, there are still areas for input from the Class of 2018. “Students can still collaborate [with the administration] on decisions like merchandising for the Class of 2018 and how [to] show the parents coming in the kind of experience their children have had for the past four years,” she said.
As a member on the Class of 2017 graduation committee, Gopal said that she had hoped for more consideration of student input for the Class of 2018’s graduation.
Jay Lusk ’18, the student government representative for Graduation and Alumni affairs, said that the student government recognises that the lack of student involvement is not ideal. While he can pass on student feedback to the Graduation Committee via Ms. Lynas, this informal channel is not the most effective, he said.
“We’re looking to prevent this kind of situation from happening in the future by trying to develop a system for student involvement in graduation like a regular [graduation] committee,” Lusk said.
While students are not involved in the planning of the graduation ceremony, they can join a DoS committee to participate in the planning of Class Day. Class Day is held on the Sunday before the graduation ceremony and will consist of a Residential College brunch, followed by a class-wide celebration.
Additionally, students can involve themselves in the nomination of the student and faculty speaker, who will be chosen by a panel consisting of three students and three faculty members.
EDITOR’S NOTE, November 17, 2017:
Due to an international meeting at the time of graduation, President Tan Chorh Chuan is no longer able to attend the 2018 Graduation ceremony as graduation speaker. Executive Vice President Kristen Lynas will now work directly with representatives from the class of 2018 to create a confidential shortlist of potential speakers. The team will seek input from the graduating class about the qualities they would like to see in a potential speaker. They aim to extend an invitation to the prospective speaker by the first week of December 2017.