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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

de Wolff: Rethinking Access to This Year’s Commencement Ceremony

Dartmouth should limit Commencement access to only seniors and their guests to ensure those outside the Dartmouth community do not take away seats.

I applaud College President Sian Leah Beilock for securing tennis legend Roger Federer as the commencement speaker for the Class of 2024’s graduation on June 9. The announcement has been rightly met with a great deal of excitement not only from the student body and the greater Dartmouth community, but also from many unconnected to Dartmouth — in the Upper Valley and beyond. Federer’s visit to Hanover is sure to draw a great crowd.

However, the buzz around this event creates the potential for the Green to be swarmed by people with no connection to this year’s graduating class. Instead, Commencement may draw fans of Federer and people hoping to just catch a glimpse of a celebrity, inadvertently taking seats away from graduating seniors and their families. While doing so is unprecedented in recent memory, Dartmouth should take steps to restrict access to this year’s Commencement ceremony in order to prevent this dismaying possibility.

Historically, Dartmouth’s Commencement ceremony has been more relaxed than other schools. We do not cram graduates and their families into a basketball arena or football stadium, and there is no ticket required to take a seat on the Green. Even ordinarily, this arrangement came with the risk that not every parent would get a chair.

This year, Federer’s presence ought to make Dartmouth reconsider how it runs Commencement. Federer is an international celebrity and one of the greatest athletes of all time. It’s not hyperbole to say that his upcoming visit to the ordinarily humdrum Upper Valley is one of the most exciting things to happen here in a while. That being said, the College’s duty should be to the students and families who have sacrificed to pay four years of Dartmouth’s eye-wateringly expensive tuition. After years of commitment, families should not have to worry that they won’t see their child graduate because a random tourist felt that seeing Federer speak would make for a fun Sunday excursion.

To avoid this gut-wrenching possibility, Dartmouth should restrict entry to the Green on the day of Commencement. This system would be similar to the one used during Green Key, in which the perimeter of the event is blocked off and a wristband is required for entry. A one-size-fits-all quota for wristband distribution will not work; different graduates will have different numbers of family members and other guests they might want to invite. Students who are employed to save seats for graduates’ families or guests — a common practice — would be included in this total.

While the wristband allotments will likely have to be capped at a certain number to prevent unscrupulous students from creating a black market for locals, if students demonstrate a need for extras — for example, if you had 11 siblings coming — then exceptions could be made. Graduates could then pick up wristbands for their guests in the weeks before Commencement. This wristband system, similar to Green Key, would allow wearers to enter and exit the perimeter with minimal fuss. If locals or others who are not connected to a graduate want to come see Federer speak, they would still be welcome to do so, but from the periphery of the Green. To be clear, the wristband system does not guarantee all guests a seat. Even during past years with less celebrated Commencement speakers, there was no guarantee that all invited guests would find choice places to sit on the Green. The only way to secure seats for all attendees would be to hold Commencement in the football stadium, a far less favorable option because of the tradition associated with the Green. 

I recognize that this proposal is unorthodox, and there is a possibility that this approach may exaggerate the number of locals that may turn up for Commencement. Either way, until Commencement happens, there’s no way to know what the odds of this happening really are. What this system does ensure, however, is that no guest will be displaced by unconnected visitors. Parents and students from the Class of 2024 should not have to worry about missing out on this moment of triumph and celebration because of the presence of others outside the community. 

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

Thomas de Wolff

Thomas de Wolff '24 is from St. Louis, Missouri, and is majoring in History and French. He currently serves as opinion editor and as a member of the Editorial Board, and has written for the opinion section in the past. Outside of The Dartmouth, Thomas enjoys playing guitar, reading, and learning to juggle.