Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

University unsure of plans for graduation

Like most graduating seniors, Michael Wynn left Tuscaloosa much earlier than he had planned. Rather than having a week and a half to say goodbye to his friends and newfound home, he had two days.

Little more than one week before Wynn was scheduled to graduate, his new home was devastated by a tornado, and widespread power outages and rumors of water shortages left him no other choice but to leave. To savor the last moments of his undergraduate career became impossible.

After arriving at his home in Marianna, Fla., on Friday, April 29, Wynn created a Facebook group called “Walking for those Who Can’t: UA Graduation 2011.” His idea was to create an extra event for May graduates to attend, and his message was simple.

“This is our chance to show the campus, community and country that we are a united family,” he said. “To show that though a catastrophic event may try to disperse us without a goodbye, we will rebuild and regroup and come back.”

Wynn came back to Tuscaloosa the very next day, and he came back with cases of water, a chainsaw and a longing to help with relief efforts. He didn’t have Internet access for a week, so his plan to reunite 2011 graduates by organizing an event got put on the backburner.

Then, one week later, he logged on to Facebook to find that the group he created had more than 1,000 attendees.

Since then, Wynn has exchanged emails and Facebook messages with countless numbers of graduating seniors.

He has also talked to University officials, including Vice Provost and Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Nelson, who plan on working with Wynn during the planning stages because of how many students Wynn has been in contact with.

“Once we know how many May grads plan to return for the ceremony, we can begin planning and working through the logistics,” Nelson said in an emailed statement. “We are working on a plan to honor both classes during commencement.”

Director of Media Relations Cathy Andreen said most of the decisions regarding commencement have not yet been finalized, mainly because officials are waiting to hear back from the Registrar’s office, which sent out a survey to graduates to see if they are planning on attending the August commencement.

Once University officials have those numbers, she said they can begin planning for things like the appropriate number of ceremonies. The survey is due June 15.

“Our goal is to have a memorable Commencement for every graduate,” Provost Judy Bonner said. “We appreciate Michael’s and other students’ input as we finalize plans.”

Although nothing has been finalized as of yet, Wynn has several ideas about how he would like the August commencement ceremony to be different than ceremonies of previous years, ideas that reflect the wishes of other students as well as his own.

Wynn said he’d like to have an event on the Friday night before graduation that would commemorate May graduates.

“The sentiment behind all of this is that we had the fruition of our collegiate experience taken away from us,” he said. “We want an event that allows us to say goodbye to our friends and that will give us the closure we deserve.”

In recent years, there has been a reception for graduates at the President’s Mansion on the Friday night before graduation, and Wynn envisions a celebratory event and candlelight vigil being added on to this reception.

At this reception, Wynn said he hopes not to convey a message of mourning but one of celebration and reflection, and he sees a candlelight vigil as a perfect opportunity for seniors to “come together and reflect and remember the victims” of April’s tornadoes.

He imagines everyone in attendance walking together from the President’s Mansion to Denny Chimes for the vigil.

“I know the city hosted a vigil last week,” he said. “But a lot of students who call Tuscaloosa home weren’t able to be there.”

Wynn also envisions having something commemorative added to this year’s graduation caps, something like a ribbon, date or script that would serve as a “unified memorial.”

In the spirit of unification, he would also like to have a single commencement ceremony, if the numbers allow for it, in addition to a commencement speaker.

Regarding commencement speakers, Wynn nominates Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, who he says has done a “phenomenal job for students, the community and the state.”

Regardless of the specifics, Wynn said he hopes to work with University officials to make this year’s ceremony particularly special for students.

“This isn’t a normal graduation,” he said, “so it shouldn’t be the way it’s always been.”

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