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This Year, CSUN Graduation Breaks With Tradition

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Times Staff Writer

The 30th graduation ceremony at Cal State Northridge, scheduled for Friday, won’t be bound by tradition.

For the first time in more than a decade, commencement exercises will not be held on the grassy area in front of Oviatt Library. Instead, the ceremony will be held on the athletic field north of the physical education building in the North Campus area.

There will be no invocation or benediction, the traditional prayers that open and close the ceremony. These were eliminated this year because of faculty concern over the inclusion of prayers at a state function, said Gloria Welles, a university spokeswoman.

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Faculty will be seated with the graduates instead of in a separate faculty area. This is an attempt, university officials said, to make the ceremony more personal for the students by having them sit next to their professors.

Also for the first time, every CSUN graduate will not have a chance to shake the hand of the university president.

Because more than 50% of the 5,521 graduates are expected to attend the ceremony, university officials have decided to split the class into six groups. Students receiving bachelor’s degrees will walk across one of five satellite stages and receive a diploma from the dean of their school.

Only students receiving master’s degrees will walk across the main stage and shake hands with CSUN President James Cleary.

One tradition will be upheld at the Friday ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. The university’s Distinguished Teaching Award, always announced at graduation, will be given to five CSUN professors.

Receiving awards this year are Ralph Baccash, foreign languages and literature; Rose Bromwich, educational psychology; Edmond Gillespie, electrical engineering; Robert C. Horn, political science; and Paul Kravagna, art general studies.

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Selection for the award is based on the teacher’s command of the subject matter and ability to communicate it to students. The university seeks letters of recommendations for the award from students and faculty, Welles said.

The changes in the CSUN graduation program are a result of recommendations made by a university committee that reviewed the ceremony.

In the past few years, the number of students participating in graduation exercises has increased. In 1984, 52% of the 5,495 graduates attended the ceremony. Last year, 69% of the graduates showed up. With family and friends, crowds for CSUN’s annual graduations have grown to between 20,000 and 30,000 people, school officials said.

The crowds became too large to hold the ceremony in front of the library, so the exercises were moved to the athletic field.

Watch for Alcohol

Extra ushers have been hired to monitor the procession of graduating students to make sure none bring alcohol to the ceremony, Welles said. There have been disturbances at previous ceremonies that officials have blamed on student drunkenness.

If alcohol is found, Welles said, it will be confiscated. However, students will not be searched, and there will no concerted effort to look for contraband, she said.

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Campus police said they are bracing for heavy traffic congestion along Zelzah Avenue and Nordhoff Street before and after the ceremony. Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department and from several local colleges and universities will share traffic control duties with the CSUN force.

The unusual usually happens at a CSUN graduation. During the ceremony, students are known to perform human waves similar to the those at sporting events. Traditional gowns and mortar boards are decorated with all kinds of paraphernalia.

Last year, two airplanes buzzed the ceremony. One plane pulled a banner that read “Ginny, will you marry me . . . Craig.”

The pilot of the second plane, which reportedly flew less than 100 feet above the crowd, was later charged with two counts of reckless flying.

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