Emory University will relocate commencement activities to the Gas South District in Duluth, Ga., which includes an indoor arena and convention center about 30 minutes from the Atlanta campus, according to an email University President Gregory Fenves sent to the Emory community this morning. Fenves added that he knows the change, which affects the diploma ceremonies for all nine schools and the University-wide commencement ceremony, will be “deeply disappointing” to many students.

Commencement is scheduled for May 13 at 8:30 a.m. Only undergraduate bachelor’s degree candidates from the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Goizueta Business School, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and Emory School of Medicine and their previously ticketed guests will be permitted at this year’s University ceremony, which is typically held on the Quadrangle for all graduates.

All members of the Emory University Class of 2023 gather on the Quadrangle for the University’s 178th Commencement ceremony. (Madi Olivier/Editor-in-Chief)

Administration made this decision after consulting security advisors, the Emory Police Department and other agencies, all of whom counseled the University against holding commencement on Emory’s campuses due to safety and security concerns. This comes after various pro-Palestinian groups have held on-campus protests since April 25, when law enforcement removed an encampment from the Emory Quadrangle and arrested 28 protestors. However, Fenves did not specify a reason for the safety concerns in his email.

“Please know that this decision was not taken lightly,” Fenves wrote.

The University canceled many events for graduates that were scheduled for the days leading up to commencement, including Class Day Crossover, University Baccalaureate and the Legacy Medallion Ceremony. Actor and rapper Tyler James Williams was scheduled to speak at this year’s Classday Crossover. Administration also canceled events celebrating identity groups, such as the Modupe Dayo ceremony for Black graduates, the Celebrating Accomplishments and Recognizing Academic Success ceremony for Latinx graduates and the first-generation low-income ceremony. Instead, the University will hold a Belonging and Community Justice reception on Sunday.

Fenves acknowledged that the Class of 2024 is “a class like no other,” as many students had their high school graduations canceled and were forced to take classes online their first year at Emory due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ranjan Kesavan (24C) said that he feels like he missed out on the full college experience at Emory.

“I missed my high school graduation,” Kesavan said. “I’m glad we’re getting a graduation but it feels a little bit less than what I signed up for.”

Catherine Cronin (22Ox, 24C) said she was “very disappointed” in the administration’s “lack of reasoning” regarding the change.

“If campus is so unsafe that we cannot host a graduation, why are so many other events still going forward?” Cronin said. “… If it’s so unsafe, why are people expected to take in person finals? It just seems it’s very selective as to what is being canceled, what is being relocated.”

Cronin also cited accessibility concerns and said that Fenves asking families to commute the extra distance when they may have already booked hotels and flights was “unreasonable.” Former Student Government Association President Khegan Meyers (24B) also said that the “last-minute” change of venue will affect transportation and will require accommodations such as rescheduling flights.

Meyers acknowledged that though there is disappointment among the graduating class, he said it could have been worse as Columbia University (N.Y.) and the University of Southern California canceled their commencement ceremonies.

“The general sentiment is obviously one of disappointment that we can’t have a normal commencement on the campus,” Meyers said. “I hope people will want to make the best of it.”

In a frequently asked questions (FAQ) webpage on the commencement website, Emory confirmed that the University-wide commencement event, as well as many of the individual events, will be livestreamed. The webpage also added that faculty, staff and students should carry their Emory ID on them at all times and be ready to present it to Emory officials. The Gas South District will also hold security screenings for event safety.

The FAQ webpage states that open expression rules will be enforced at commencement. Individuals are not allowed to interfere “unreasonably” or cause “substantial disruption” that hampers the rights of others. This can include excessive noise or chanting, which can interrupt someone giving a speech or prevent the audience from seeing a speaker during commencement. Attendees may not hold protests that endanger the health or safety of attendees or cause or threaten to cause harm to a person or property. Finally, attendees are not allowed to “cause harassment,” become unreasonably loud or violate federal, state, local or other applicable laws.

Emory will update the commencement website as more information becomes available.

Fenves concluded that Emory applauds each graduate’s resilience, dedication and accomplishments.

You will become graduates of Emory University, ready to enter a world that needs your talents, your wisdom, and your leadership,” Fenves wrote.

Updated (5/12/2024 at 2:30 p.m.): This article was updated to include comments from Ranjan Kesavan (24C), Catherine Cronin (22Ox, 24C) and former Student Government Association President Khegan Meyers (24B).

Correction (5/6/2024 at 4:00 p.m.): A previous version of this article did not clarify that individual identity events would be replaced by a Belonging and Community Justice reception. The article has been updated to reflect this information.

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Spencer Friedland (26C) is from Long Island, New York and is the Emory Wheel's Managing News Editor. He is a Philosophy, Politics and Law major and has a secondary major in Film. Spencer is also a part of the Franklin Fellows program at Emory.

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Lauren Yee (25Ox) is a news editor at The Emory Wheel. She is from Hong Kong and is majoring in religion. Outside of the Wheel, Yee serves on the boards of the Phi Gamma Literary Society and the Oxford Ensemble of Shakespearean Artists. In her free time, you can find her playing the saxophone, watching musicals or enjoying an iced oat milk matcha!