Manhattan graduation shrouded in mystery


Sonia Sotomayor is a tough act to follow. But for Manhattan College, it’s proving more difficult than expected.

The college is three months out from graduation in May, and the question of who will speak at the Class of 2020’s commencement exercises remains unaddressed. Other key information — including the number of guest tickets each member of the graduating class will receive for family and friends — was only made public last week.

This is nothing new for Manhattan College, it seems. The months leading up to last year’s commencement ceremony were marked by uncertainty as well. During the Fall 2018 semester, the Class of 2019 learned they would only receive two guest tickets each for the ceremony via the college’s website. After widespread outcry, a resolution with hundreds of signatures, a student-led protest and a raucous student government assembly meeting, the school doubled the number of guest tickets available.

The number of guest tickets isn’t an issue for the Class of 2020, however, as each student will have four available to them. If someone wants a fifth, Manhattan College is offering additional tickets through a lottery.

But even that system hasn’t avoided controversy. The lottery will begin in March and winners will be announced by April 8, meaning students will only know the exact number of tickets they will receive a month before commencement. That could be tricky for graduates hoping to bring in guests from out of town, or even out of the country.

Getting aspects of graduation together, like tickets, has been slow-going — even more than usual for Manhattan College. Part of that is because there are a few more hurdles to clear this year, said William Clyde, the school’s provost and executive vice president. While the Class of 2020 has fewer graduates than last year, it wasn’t few enough to ensure every student could have five guest tickets automatically. “There are basically four-and-a-half tickets per person, and so we wanted to work out a fair process for distributing the other half ticket,” Clyde said.  “And so a process was proposed, we ran it by the deans, we sent it to student government (who) wrote back and said that that seemed like that made sense, and then all the information was put up on the website.”

But while the Class of 2020 finally knows — roughly — how many guest tickets they will receive, they still don’t know who the commencement speaker will be. And after last year, they’re likely to be somewhat disappointed.

Bronx native and Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was announced as the event’s keynote speaker last April, although rumors about her selection were circulating the college long before.

Getting Sotomayor to campus was no easy feat, according to Clyde. Sotomayor was first approached about speaking at an upcoming commencement in 2016, and it didn’t come to fruition until three years later.

If such efforts are underway to bring in someone high profile this year, the provost’s office isn’t talking.

For Jenna Zawislak, a Manhattan College alum who graduated last May, hearing Sotomayor would be her commencement speaker was unbelievably exciting. In fact, when she heard the news, Zawislak interrupted her international relations class to announce it to everyone present.

Zawislak is now a first-year law student at the University of Maine. As a woman pursuing law, hearing Sotomayor speak at her graduation was inspirational.

“As the first Hispanic and third woman on the Supreme Court, she brings underrepresented voices to the court,” Zawislak said. “Justice Sotomayor’s place on the Supreme Court is invaluable to women and the underrepresented groups that she gives a voice to.”

This year’s graduating class, however, still have a few questions left unanswered. One of those graduating seniors, Lisette Vincent, has high hopes for the commencement speaker. The marketing major is paying close attention to the commencement speaker selection process, because who delivers such an important address is something that stays with graduates as one of the highlights of their college careers.

“I care about who speaks at graduation because that moment is a big step in any graduating senior’s life,” Vincent said. “It’s going to be something remembered forever.”

More than anything, Vincent wants a speaker who can understand some of the struggles students might face after graduation, including finding a job, buying a house, and paying off student loans.

“I think a great speaker for graduation doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who is well-known or has everything picture perfect on paper,” Vincent said. “Just someone who can understand students’ positions and can give advice and provide guidance toward the next steps after graduation.”

The logistics might not be worked out quite yet, but Manhattan College graduates its Class of 2020 on May 15.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Intern Rose Brennan is a member of Manhattan College’s Class of 2020.