Tandon students demand to walk at graduation

More than 1,300 students signed a petition asking for the university to change the graduation format for Tandon students, who won’t have the chance to walk on stage due to time constraints.


Bela Kirpalani

File photo: Graduates pose for photos with friends and family outside the Barclays Center after Tandon’s 2018 graduation ceremony. (Bela Kirpalani for WSN)

Adrianna Nehme, Deputy News Editor

Manas Johri, a student completing his master’s degree at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, imagined that when graduation came around, he would walk up on stage for a handshake, grab his diploma and take photos with his family after the ceremony.

But this year, Tandon graduates will not have the chance to cross the stage at the Barclays Center due to time constraints — last year’s ceremony, which celebrated 2,067 graduates, lasted over six hours. To cut back on time, the school has decided to read off each graduate’s name, and display their photo and name on a screen while they stand near their chair in the crowd. In response to the news, over 1,300 students signed an online petition to call on NYU to give this year’s over 3,000 graduates the chance to walk on stage during the ceremony. 

The petition calls on administration to seek alternatives to the photo display plan that honor graduates’ achievements. It described graduation ceremonies as “a significant milestone in a student’s life [that] should be celebrated with dignity and respect.” Johri, whose parents live in India, said that if this year’s graduation will be the equivalent to watching a YouTube video, they might as well not attend the ceremony.

“My first graduation happened on YouTube, and this is basically the same,” Johri said. “It’s emotionally a really high point and even though it seems like 5-10 seconds when students walk, those are moments our parents are waiting for.”

Leah Schmerl, a public affairs officer at Tandon, said that the number of undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students would make it impossible for the graduation walk to take place.

“We received numerous complaints from students and their families both during and after the ceremony,” Schmerl said of last year’s event. “The vast majority of attendees left the ceremony before it was over, leaving the last graduates in a nearly empty arena. This year, we have more than 3,400 graduation candidates, which would mean an even longer ceremony. It would not be possible to complete the ceremony before our allocated end time if students walked the stage.”

University spokesperson John Beckman added that there are no guidelines that schools at NYU are required to follow regarding how they decide to organize graduation ceremonies. 

Some parents of international students are hesitant to travel overseas to watch their students graduate if they won’t walk on stage. Tandon students represent over 100 countries, and during the 2019-2020 academic year, over 70% of the school’s graduate students were international. 

Nathaniel Lim, a senior at Tandon, is reconsidering flying his grandmother from Taiwan to watch the ceremony. Lim noted that the pandemic already affected his first year at Tandon. 

“A few months into our first-year we were hit with COVID and all sent home within a single week,” Lim said. “Supposedly everything is normal, but we can’t even walk at graduation.”

Tandon graduate student Pojaa Ramesh has family from India, as well as friends from Germany and Canada coming to watch her graduate. They already spent money on plane tickets and hotels, and they can’t receive a refund, so they still plan to attend the ceremony. 

“They are just going to come here to see a picture of myself at the ceremony rather than see me walk on stage,” Ramesh said. “Just having a picture shown of me on the screen and my parents won’t be able to see me there — it just feels like it doesn’t matter if I am there at the ceremony or not.”

Contact Adrianna Nehme at [email protected].