Students say Cal State Long Beach commencement plans deflate joy of graduation

Students at Cal State Long Beach are pushing for changes to how the university is planning to conduct commencement in May.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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Joshua Biragbara imagined that walking across the stage at college commencement, and hearing his name read aloud to a packed crowd, would represent the payoff for all the years he struggled. He had clawed his way through Cal State University Long Beach, after dropping out of community college and working a series of jobs that included barista and warehouse worker.

“I’ve been in and out of school for seven years,” the 25-year-old said. “I kind of thought that once I graduate, it’d be like a crowning moment.”

But Biragbara and thousands of other students will miss out on those fleeting moments on stage when they graduate from Cal State Long Beach in May. That’s because university officials have — for the third year in a row — decided to forgo the ritual of reading graduates’ names as they walk across the stage to ceremonially receive their degrees.


A university spokesperson said it is “not practical at this scale” to individually recognize graduates by reading their names during the main graduation ceremonies. The spokesperson noted that some cultural groups and individual departments will host smaller ceremonies where students can expect to have their names read.

Instead the university will project graduates’ names on a jumbotron during May commencement at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Organizers will also create “recognition stages” where students can scan personalized QR codes that trigger a slideshow and an announcement of their names, as they walk across a ramp in their caps and gowns outside the stadium.

Students are incensed. They say they feel robbed of another quintessential college experience, after having much of their education already disrupted by the pandemic.

They are pressuring the university to rescind its decision, in an online petition that had generated more than 16,000 signatures in three weeks. They’ve contacted media outlets and posted fliers on campus that read “Let ’23 walk.” Hundreds of students have also subscribed to a Discord server where they can vent their frustrations and share information with one another.

For the record:

10:31 p.m. March 20, 2023A previous version of this article misspelled Zeina Elrachid’s last name as Elrachild.

“Prior to COVID, they were doing a regular ceremony on campus calling names and having the students walk across the stage,” said Zeina Elrachid, a fourth-year molecular biology student who started the online petition. “I don’t see why they can’t just try a little bit harder to make it happen for us.”

Elrachid, whose best friends have booked plane tickets to fly out for the ceremony from Tennessee, said she wants her moment on stage to make her parents proud.


“I want them to watch me walk across the stage,” she said. “It’s what I’ve been envisioning my whole life.”

For 22-year-old Amelie Hernandez, the issue is also a matter of respect.

“We all deserve a spotlight with our names read,” she said. “Getting our name called kind of emphasizes that we matter at the school. And having our names just run on a screen, it kind of just doesn’t feel the same.”

The ritual carries added import in her family, she said, because her mom is legally blind. “Having her hear my name being called during the ceremony would really mean a lot.”

The pandemic upended high school and college graduations across the country for two years. Campuses became resourceful in trying to commemorate students’ achievements while remaining mindful of public health — organizing drive-through ceremonies, or moving the festivities entirely online. Many colleges and universities returned to conventional commencement ceremonies by 2022.

At Cal State Long Beach, which has held commencement at Angel Stadium since 2021, about 14,700 students are eligible to graduate in May, according to the university. Commencement is not one large ceremony but a series of smaller ceremonies, divided by colleges within the university and spread over three days.

Marilyn Gaona, a fourth-year criminology student, said students are particularly upset because the pandemic had already deprived them of many educational and social experiences.


Crossing the stage in front of her family and her peers would symbolize how much Gaona had achieved as a first-generation student — and as the first person in her Mexican-American family to graduate from college. But after learning about the commencement plans, Gaona said her parents decided against going.

They will celebrate their daughter’s accomplishment. But they “will not sit in the sun just to hear administration talk for three hours,” they said.