It's graduation season. Thousands of high school and college graduates will, at last, don their caps and gowns to receive their diplomas.
But with scores of students waiting their turn for the spotlight, can they bust out a stroll on stage? A dance? Selfies? A backflip?
Colleges and school systems are taking note after a marshal at the University of Florida manhandled students — most of whom were black — who “strolled” at commencement May 5. It is customary for historically black fraternities and sororities to perform their Greek organization’s signature dance across the graduation stage.
UF President Kent Fuchs has since apologized for the "inappropriately aggressive" actions taken by the marshal, who has not been identified by the university. Fuchs announced that a task force was formed to "provide a comprehensive review" of commencement procedures.
Watching how his friends were treated on stage, UF grad Christopher Garcia-Wilde, 22, opted to instead raise a fist. But he plans to stroll when he graduates in a few years from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
“It’s hard to comprehend why you would interrupt someone’s celebration at graduation and it’s hard to see that happening at another school,” he said.
Strolling, backflips, dancing, waving to family, waving a flag from a home country — “I think all of it is acceptable,” he said. “Those things don’t take too much time so the narrative that the university has kind of given is that they want to make sure the ceremony isn’t that long.”
Instead, Garcia-Wilde recommended that schools cut down on speeches or awards given to alumni.
“They can cut out that time and give that time to graduates,” he said.
That’s the thinking behind Miami Dade College’s commencement ceremonies. At each of the five ceremonies held for a total of 17,000 graduates, students helped select music and hand out light sticks.
“We always consider it a celebration for our students,” said Lenore Rodicio, the executive vice president and provost. “The ceremony has both the pomp and circumstance and the celebratory aspect.”
She added, “Our students, for the most part, [this] is their last opportunity in higher education. For them, hitting that milestone is very big.”
At Florida Memorial University, a historically black and religious institution in Miami Gardens, students are reminded by the university chaplain that “This is your moment, and it’s also everyone else’s moment.”
No one has ever been reprimanded for being exuberant, said spokeswoman Opal Comfort.
“Of course not,” Comfort said. “They’re just told ahead of time basically to be considerate of everyone.”
Other schools have instituted stricter policies. In 2014, the University of South Florida announced that graduates would face disciplinary action — including having their diplomas withheld — if they stepped, strolled, marched or took a selfie with USF President Judy Genshaft while walking across the stage.
Adam Freeman, a USF spokesman, said the university is not aware of any students who had their degrees withheld. He said 10 graduation ceremonies were held last weekend, and with more than 7,000 degrees conferred, without issue.
"Graduates are encouraged not to participate in distracting or disrespectful behavior during the ceremonies, including stopping to take personal photos or videos," he wrote in an email.
More than 27,000 graduates from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system will be warned to behave appropriately at ceremonies later this month and early June. Those who violate decorum will not receive their diploma until a conference can be held with parents to discuss the matter, said district spokesman John Schuster.
Some schools, like Florida International University, have boilerplate language for decorum among graduates and guests. No selfie sticks, air horns or silly string allowed.
“Fortunately, the celebrations have always been appropriate and respectful of all of our guests,” said FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana.