When I opened the email from University Announcements, I expected a relatively insignificant, routine update. After initially skimming the email, I stopped to carefully read the message after a particular phrase caught my eye: “This year’s Commencement celebration ceremonies will be held in Ted Runner Stadium.” The disappointing revelation that a years-long Redlands dream would never materialize gradually sank in.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the University of Redlands Commencement Committee announced, much to the dismay of many students, that the 114th commencement will be held in Ted Runner Stadium. With the exception of the online commencement ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic, commencement has traditionally been held in the Greek Theatre. In fact, the venue’s full title is the Alumni Greek Theatre. It’s where Redlands alumni are made.
That is why this year will be the first time in the university’s history that graduation will be held in Ted Runner Stadium.
I can distinctly recall setting foot on campus for the first time when I visited Redlands for a tour. I hadn’t yet made a decision on where to attend college, but my tour guide made the university an easy sell. Small class sizes, personable professors, generous financial aid, and a beautiful campus were all compelling reasons to choose Redlands. Standing outside the Hall of Letters, our tour guide gestured to the beautiful Greek Theatre below as she offered the prospect of our Redlands experience culminating with a commencement ceremony there. This was Redlands’ promise.
Our class has endured a great deal of unexpected and undesired change. We were subjected to almost a year and a half of online learning in the wake of the pandemic. We were forced to be away from campus and, more significantly, we were forced to be away from each other. This class has faced more academic adversity than most in the university’s history on our path to graduate.
Despite these challenges, the university administration expected us to be excited upon learning that we will be treated to a commencement ceremony akin to that of a high school graduation. The Greek Theatre is infinitely more symbolic, aesthetically appealing, and meaningful than a football stadium. In the university’s own words, “the Greek Theatre is home to some of the university’s most beloved traditions.” Apparently, we are not permitted to choose to continue a Redlands tradition.
Of course, the university did provide an opportunity via email for students to provide feedback on candidates for the College of Arts and Sciences Dean position–a role that will affect none of us seeing as we graduate in April. It baffles me that such a momentous decision as moving commencement out of the Greek Theatre was not at least pitched to the students for feedback before the decision was made just two-and-a-half months before graduation.
According to the university administration, the reasons for changing the venue are deeper than what was relayed to students in the initial email. The university estimates 600 family members and friends would have to be seated in the tent on the Quad because the Greek Theatre would not be able to accommodate everyone. Additionally, the Commencement Committee anticipated that a ticketing system would be needed to limit the number of guests per graduate.
More to the tune of the initial notice from University Announcements, the administration said in response to an inquiry from the Bulldog that work to update the Greek Theatre to address the aforementioned issues is necessary but cannot be completed in time for Commencement and is not currently in the budget.
Students and families from previous years have apparently shared concerns with the administration over the difficulty of navigating the stairs and wheelchair access. While the university conceded that the Greek Theatre complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they said it is important to address “actual accessibility.”
In light of these findings, the university will “continue to evaluate and balance the need of those participating and attending the event with the desire to maintain tradition and opportunities to improve the Greek Theatre,” but it appears commencements will be held at Ted Runner Stadium for the foreseeable future. This, the university says, will build new traditions.
In response to the abrupt relocation, Redlands students have started a petition on change.org which has gathered over 400 signatures. I sympathize with their cause. Indeed, the University of Redlands promised that we would graduate at the Greek Theatre. I, like countless students, have envisioned myself walking across the stage in the Greek Theatre for the past several years.
I don’t mean to sound entitled, although I am compelled to feel entitled to a commencement ceremony held in the Greek Theatre given that it is what we were promised up until three weeks ago. As one student who signed the petition wrote in the page’s comment section, the University of Redlands is guilty of “false advertisement.” They promoted the Greek Theatre as the hallmark of a Redlands graduation, only to abruptly and unexpectedly move the ceremony to the football stadium without first consulting the graduating class.
This is not to say that the Ted Runner Stadium does not have merit as a venue. The football stadium is more accessible than the Greek Theatre, and it can hold more people. The Greek Theatre’s capacity is 4,000 (excluding the additional bleachers historically provided for the ceremony) while Ted Runner Stadium holds 6,750. Moreover, the football stadium offers accessible restrooms and increased access from reserved ADA parking to a dedicated ADA seating area in front of the grandstands.
Moreover, I do not mean to be insensitive to those who may benefit from the change of venue. I am also sympathetic to their cause. I recognize the value in providing a more accessible place to graduate. I do, however, take issue with the notion that students are not permitted to continue to be disheartened by the change of venue after learning of the reasons, which DEFIANT leaders Jay Arroyo and Elizabeth Beck insinuated.
It is important to recognize that the Greek Theatre is not inaccessible. While it may be less accessible than Ted Runner Stadium, it is accessible at ground level from behind the stage, which itself provides wheelchair accessible ramps on either side. The Greek Theatre, like Ted Runner Stadium, is ADA compliant.
There will be many positive improvements to the commencement ceremony this year, but those benefits come at the cost of discontinuing a Redlands tradition.
It is disappointing that the class of 2023, after all we’ve been through, will not be permitted to partake in that Redlands tradition. Furthermore, it is regrettable that the university administration failed to uphold the promise conveyed to us when we first enrolled here. If the university believes Ted Runner Stadium is a superior venue for commencement, they should begin advertising it to prospective students. But until then, for those of us to whom the university advertised the Greek Theatre, they should uphold that promise.
When I depart the University of Redlands in April—which ideally would be after graduating at the Greek Theatre—I will attend law school to pursue a career in constitutional law. In that spirit, I borrow from former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s majority opinion in Washington v. Glucksberg—which established the test for incorporation of substantive due process rights in the Fourteenth Amendment—to conclude that graduating in the Greek Theatre is “deeply rooted” in this institution’s “history and tradition” so as to be ranked as “fundamental” to the Redlands experience.
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Photo by Photo Editor Kyle Eaton.