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With Chicago at DePaul's disposal, why is graduation in Rosemont?

By Sean McDonough
On February 13, 2012

Most DePaul University seniors might feel like it was just yesterday when their parents dropped them off at their Lincoln Park dorms. Fast forward four years of endless hours spent in the library cramming for finals, mixed in with timeless memories with friends, and just like that . . . in June it will be all over.

Along with graduation come the slings and arrows of facing the real world: A looming rent payment and the pressure of finding a job in a downtrodden economy. For some DePaul seniors, the stress of being a college graduate won't come after graduation, but instead during the months prior to the day that, for many, will be their final intimate connection with the university.

On top of getting mom and dad settled for the weekend, students walking in the colleges of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (LAS), Communication, Commerce, and the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) ceremonies at the Allstate Arena are expressing frustration at the chore of finding ways to transport guests back and forth between Rosemont and Chicago.

The Allstate Arena is 17 miles away from the Lincoln Park campus. Without taking traffic into consideration, the trip takes approximately 30 minutes by car. The university does not provide shuttles or any type of transportation for guests commuting to and from the Allstate Arena.

Transportation will likely not figure to be an issue for most in-state graduates who can simply jump in the family minivan and head to Rosemont. On the other hand, out-of-state students feel burdened.

Karim Lalani, a senior from Georgia who will be walking in the LAS ceremony, takes issue with DePaul holding commencement at Allstate without offering transportation.

"It's not good. It's absolutely an inconvenience for everybody," said Lalani, who is expecting five to six family members to attend.

Lalani has yet to tell his parents where graduation is being held because he said he is embarrassed to do so, and views the upcoming commencement as "an unfortunate ending."

Much of DePaul's student body is composed of students not from the Mid-West, which means their families will likely be flying to Chicago to attend commencement. In addition to airfare, hotel, food and miscellaneous costs, most families will be saddled with renting a car or paying for a taxi to see their graduate receive his or her diploma. If they decide to stay in a Loop or Lincoln Park area hotel closer to campus, they may also need transportation to the many attractions Chicago offers.

Lisa Sullivan, the director of events at DePaul, is in charge of planning the commencement ceremonies. She contends that the cost of travelling to Rosemont can be mitigated by staying in a hotel nearby the Allstate Arena. Sullivan noted that the university offers a list of several recommended hotels, with some offering discounted rates. Sullivan also suggested taking the Blue Line for those coming from somewhere within the city.

"It's not a nightmare to get there via public transit," Sullivan said.

Sullivan acknowledged the potential difficulties of managing traffic on commencement day but held strong to the advantages of holding the ceremonies at Allstate, which enables the school to offer free parking as well as free and unlimited tickets for guests.

Sullivan also pointed to the practicalities of holding such a large event.

As a DePaul alumnus who graduated at the Allstate Arena in 1991, Sullivan alleged that she has considered several venues in the city, but maintains the stance that no place other than the Allstate Arena can handle DePaul's large audience.

"We don't have our own stadium," Sullivan said. "We don't have another venue to bring it back to the city. It's a decision based on need."

Sullivan also alluded to the comfort the school has in working with the Allstate Arena, which has hosted dozens of past DePaul commencement ceremonies.

"They know what we need and work with our production company to make it happen," she said. "I take it very seriously because I am an [alumna]. I want their sendoff to be as special as can be."

Charles Suchar, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, which graduates the largest number of students among the DePaul University colleges, agreed that the university is limited to where they can hold commencement.

"There is not a single place on campus that could hold the thousands [of guests]. There is just no other place to do it," he said.

Suchar has been a member of DePaul's faculty for the past 44 years and has seen many graduations, some of which have been held at venues other than the Allstate Arena, including DePaul's quad, Navy Pier and the McCormick Place. However, he maintained that the Allstate Arena, with its free parking, accessibility and less competition among trade shows, qualify the Rosemont venue as the best place to hold commencement. Moreover, Suchar said outdoor venues such as the DePaul quad are risky because of weather concerns, like rain or intense heat.

A number of students would like to see administration take a page out on the other commencement ceremonies put on by DePaul. For example, the College of Education, the School of Music, the Theatre School, and the School for New Learning all graduate at Chicago's Civic Opera House in the Loop. At these ceremonies, students and their guests are able to take in Chicago's world-class, trademark architecture.

Moreover, DePaul's College of Law typically holds commencement at the Civic Opera, but has opted to re-route their May 20 commencement to the Rosemont Theatre due to the G8/Nato summits.

Opponents of the Allstate commencement cling to the argument that the amenities of Rosemont simply don't compare to what the city of Chicago offers. After all, the city is what drove so many students to choose DePaul.

Others argue that there isn't enough to do with their families in Rosemont after the ceremony. In the city, one can simply walk a block or two and find a restaurant to dine-in and celebrate.

Furthermore, some find it striking that DePaul would hold an off-campus commencement given the effort they go through in promoting their relationship with Chicago. For instance, a banner on the eighth floor of the Loop Campus DePaul Center refers to DePaul as "the cornerstone of Chicago." Additionally, the school's website shows off some of Chicago's renowned landscape, from Wrigley Field to the downtown skyline to the lake front. In sharp contrast, the area surrounding the Allstate Arena is characterized by a noisy highway, a Target and a skid-row of hotels.

Despite the charismatic Chicago landscape, administrators point out that the cost of holding such a large ceremony within the city would end up being too much, resulting in the university having to limit the amount of guests students are allowed bring with them.

Suchar echoed this defense, and said that a ceremony closer to campus can become cost-prohibitive when considering the large amount of guests that accompany students. In this light, Suchar said, "It's a tougher issue than I think a lot of students realize."

Like Sullivan, Suchar was willing to level with students frustrated with inconvenient travel itineraries caused by the Allstate Arena commencement.

"I recognize it causes a problem," Suchar said. "But how many times in a life will you do it? I don't think a lot of parents would mind it. They want to be there."

The LAS dean added that in his experience, he has noticed that many families do enjoy the ceremony. "We let the families scream and yell," he said as he described what he characterized as a fun atmosphere for families and graduates.

Still, DePaul's student body remains opposed to a commencement so far from campus, despite administrative affirmation regarding the advantages of the Allstate Arena

Senior Mic Durfee, for instance, has already chosen not to attend the LAS ceremony. "It's too much of a hassle," said Durfee. "It should be painless… There should be a better option."

Much of the hassle Durfee is referring to is the 8 a.m. start time of the LAS commencement, which has troubled other students as well. Some feel that this pain would be lessened if the event were held on campus, or at least somewhere closer within Chicago.

Dave Cueman, who graduated as a DePaul undergrad in 2010, and who is now enrolled in DePaul's Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing program, noted the pros and cons of the early commencement when recalling his ceremony.

"The only good thing was I had the rest of the day . . . But you feel like a zombie because (the ceremony) is so early," he said.

Cueman went on to cite the size of the Allstate Arena and the noticeable empty seats in the upper deck when recalling what he viewed as the negative aspects of the ceremony. To Cueman, the setting did not resemble that of a typical college commencement, and it was not how he pictured graduating.

Cueman, who is from New Jersey, added that it was an inconvenience to coordinate events with his parents who, along with his two grandparents and sister, opted to stay the weekend at a hotel in Rosemont.

Despite resentment felt among much of DePaul's student-body, few have expressed their feelings beyond their own conversations.

Student Government Association President Anthony Alfano said he can understand a student's feelings of misconnect from graduating at Allstate but added, "no one has come up to me [to voice their complaint]."

Despite not formally airing their complaints to SGA or DePaul's administration, student-body and administration opinion on commencement could not appear to be further apart.

Cueman, who does not plan on walking in his Master's commencement this year went on to lament, "It didn't even feel like I graduated college. There was no aspect of DePaul there."

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