No caps, gowns at Chicago Theatre

By Assistant Campus Editor

Kelly Wenzel
The college administration announced Oct. 16 that, after three years, graduation will no longer be held at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St. This year, the commencement ceremony will be held at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway.

Amid weeks of rumors regarding a venue change for the 2015 commencement ceremony and a subsequent student-initiated petition, the college announced that this year’s graduation ceremonies will be held at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, instead of the iconic Chicago Theatre.

President Kwang-Wu Kim said in an Oct. 16 email to the college that the administration was unable to reach a deal with the Chicago Theatre that would guarantee that the venue would host the college’s graduation ceremonies for several more years. Commencement ceremonies have been held at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., for the last three years, but the Auditorium Theatre was willing to agree to a multi-year deal, according to the email.

“[The Chicago Theatre] has decided not to pursue a multi-year contract with us,” Kim said in the emailed statement. “Since Commencement is the single most important academic ceremony of the year, and since we cannot host it on our own campus, it was a top priority to find a partner venue willing to guarantee us a location for the next several years.”

Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Success, said the change is a positive one for the college and that rumors about the college’s financial ability being a factor are false. He expressed sentiments similar to Kim’s and said the venue change is a result of failed contract negotiations with the Chicago Theatre.

“We loved being [at the Chicago Theatre]; I was the one who took us there,” Kelly said. “I quote, ‘Because of the current marketplace along with some changes in our senior management team, we are unable to accommodate a long-term deal at this time.’ We can’t go year-to-year. The future of commencement at a great facility would be at risk.”

Even though Columbia’s commencement will not take place there, a commencement ceremony is scheduled for Northwestern Law School on May 15, a day before the college’s five ceremonies were set to take place over the span of two days.

The Chronicle requested comment from both the theater and Northwestern University, but neither responded as of press time.

Kelly said he thinks holding such a significant event at a renowned location is crucial to Columbia’s image and its students and is something the students look forward to and deserve. In the college’s search for a comparable iconic venue, the Auditorium Theatre was the choice of the faculty, Kelly said.

Kelly said he would not consider returning to other previous locations, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion, 525 S. Racine St., or the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St.

“I did not want to return to the [UIC Pavilion],” Kelly said. “It worked, but it’s a basketball arena. It isn’t iconic architecture. It’s a cold, soulless place, but we made it work.”

Although the official statement was released Oct. 16, rumors of the change have been circulating for weeks, as evidenced by a petition created by the Class of 2015 on urging the administration to keep the commencement ceremony at the Chicago Theatre.

“People are always concerned about things,” Kelly said. “They don’t know the particulars, but we can’t go to a place that isn’t going to work for us. We’re being responsible for the students, and I think the statement from the president speaks for itself.”

Kelly said the petition will not have an impact on the decision and the ceremony will be moved to the Auditorium Theatre regardless. There were 418 signatures on the petition with an overall goal of 1,000 signatures as of press time. To encourage positivity regarding the change, Kelly said he will host tours of the new venue.

“There are more seats, an orchestra pit and the architecture is one of the National Historic Landmarks,” Kelly said. “Students aren’t losing anything. They’re actually gaining.”

However, many students have reached out to various faculty members, fellow students and The Chronicle to voice their dissatisfaction with the venue change.

Hope Nash, a senior television major, said she regrets her choice to wait until the 2015 commencement ceremony to participate rather than walking in the 2014 ceremony. Like several senior students, Nash has one semester left but decided to wait until she was completely done with her degree requirements rather than participate in graduation ceremonies and return to the college for another semester.

“Graduating at the Chicago Theatre is something I’ve been looking forward to my entire academic career,” Nash said. “When I saw that they had moved [away from the theatre], I was so frustrated.”

Nash said the Chicago Theatre location is a college tradition. Nash also said she signed the petition in hopes of changing the minds of the administration despite thinking it is a pointless pursuit.

“I understand that there’s only so much [the administration] can do, but I’m really hoping that they’re listening to us and seeing how upset everyone is and taking that into consideration,” Nash said.

If the graduating seniors’ petition does not achieve its goal of moving the commencement ceremony back to the Chicago Theatre, Nash said she may not return for the ceremony at all.

“I moved to Los Angeles already, so I was looking forward to coming back to Chicago for graduation,” Nash said. “If it’s not at the Chicago Theatre, I’m not sure if it’s worth the hassle [of] coming back.”

Ricky Orozco, a senior journalism major, also said he is disappointed with the venue change because it takes some of the excitement out of the day.

“My parents were looking forward to seeing their only son walk at the Chicago Theatre, so doing it across the street at Roosevelt just isn’t as special,” Orozco said.

He said he was in disbelief that the college would change venues due to what he thinks is a tradition of the college. Orozco said he has not signed the petition thus far and he does not think doing so will change the college administration’s mind anyway, he said.

“If it’s the theater’s choice, I can respect that more than the school just not wanting to pay [a certain amount],” Orozco said. “[However,] I think at the end of the day, the school is going to do whatever [it] wants anyway.”