New College students plan alternative commencement for graduates

Deric Harvey of the New College of Florida shows the excitement of graduation at the commencement ceremony in 2021 in the open air of Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

SARASOTA — As graduates around the state and region prepare to put on their caps and gowns for one of life's biggest milestones, students from New College of Florida are preparing for an alternative commencement ceremony for this year's graduating class amid the controversial conservative transformation of Florida's only public liberal arts honors college launched by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The student-led "Commencement On Our Terms" event Thursday will serve as a supplemental commencement experience for this year's New College graduates. The graduates will celebrate in a private gathering at an undisclosed location in downtown Sarasota ahead of the school's traditional graduation, which is slated for the following evening on May 19.

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The alternative graduation was organized by New College seniors, with support from the alumni-run Novo Collegian Alliance, which wanted to provide an opportunity for graduates to celebrate their accomplishments while supporting one another following the close of an unusual and trying semester.

Myranda Pierce, a New College alum who graduated in 2010, has this year's graduates navigate the recent commencement planning.

"Part of this event is to remind them that they are supported, the entire community is behind them supporting them," Pierce said.

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"They wanted a night to decompress and celebrate together, really as a family. New College graduation is quite a festive event... it's just really lively. It's never been a stale commencement because New College is really special. Students have been feeling like everything special they had has been taken from them, and all the joy has been sucked out of them and the campus... it's really a chance for them to celebrate together."

Commencement ceremonies of the New College of Florida have traditionally been non-traditional, without the typical cap and gown. They were held in the open air of Ed at Smith Stadium in 2021 in Sarasota.

Students sought assistance from alumni supporters of the Novo Collegian Alliance and raised more than $60,000 in less than a week using a Go Fund Me campaign to hold a graduation on their own terms.

The board of Nova Collegiate Alliance organization came together earlier this year not long after the January appointment of new Board of Trustee members by Gov. Ron DeSantis she said.

Since then, the Nova Alliance has helped students in a number of ways in response to the college's overhaul and takeover.

Pierce said students are being supported through financial assistance, legacy gifts, and demonstration organization. New College students have received donations from around the world since January, Pierce said.

Interim President Richard Corcoran announced that Dr. Scott Atlas will be the commencement speaker for the regular graduation ceremony on Friday at the Ringling Mansion.

Atlas, a radiologist, is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow in health policy at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He was a controversial figure in former President Donald Trump's administration, serving as a special White House advisor during the COVID-19 pandemic. His views often contradicted the prevailing medical advice on how to combat COVID.

"Dr. Atlas' perspective and resume are impressive; he is a champion and fighter for free speech and a renowned national leader,” said Corcoran in a statement from the New College. “We are happy to welcome him here at New College, where we place a high value on personal freedom and individual autonomy, as Dr. Atlas does.”

Corcoran's statement said he sought Atlas as a speaker in part because he "is a first-generation college student in his family, he knows the value of hard work and what a path to higher education can lead to in one’s future. He has spoken about being bold and rising up over challenges, even amongst criticism. That spoke to me as we seek to stand up for the future of New College, our students and faculty - and now our graduates."

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: New College students plan private, alternative graduation ceremony