The graduation ceremony for UST’s spring class of 2019 has been relocated from its usual venue of NRG Arena to the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land, Texas. According to UST Director of University Events Muffy Buvens, the decision was based on factors such as expense, seating, and the cleanliness of the venue.
In an email, Buvens told the Independent that the decision to relocate the commencement ceremony has been under consideration for several years. She wrote the change would create a more welcoming and higher-quality experience than NRG was able to provide.
In an interview with the Independent, she said the changes were made by a commencement committee. Buvens, who leads the committee, said it comprises approximately 30 people, including UST faculty, staff and University President Richard Ludwick, along with representatives from Student Affairs, Marketing and Communications, Alumni Relations, the University police, Facilities, Campus Ministry and the Office of the Registrar.
“There was not one person who drove the decision, as decisions are made collaboratively by our committee,” Buvens wrote.
However, Buvens said some UST seniors would attend some meetings; however, they did not participate directly in the decision-making process.
Other venues, including the George R. Brown convention center downtown, Minute Maid park, Hobby center, and Wortham center, were considered, but Buvens said they proved more costly.
Buvens said Smart Financial Centre is less expensive than NRG Arena, but said she did not have an exact price difference.
However, in an email to the Independent, Vice President of the Marketing and Communications Department Jeff Olsen wrote, “We estimate that the move to Smart Financial Centre will save us upwards of 25 percent on total venue costs.”
In addition, Buvens said the University was never allowed to utilize the entire NRG Arena seating area during past commencements, but was allocated approximately 5,800 seats. In contrast, Smart Financial Centre can hold 6,400 people. Graduates are allowed to be seated on stage at Smart Financial Centre, she noted, although she added that the committee is still unsure who will be seated on stage this spring.
Another reason for relocating to Smart Financial Centre was the comparable hygiene and cleanliness of the venue, according to Buvens. Buvens said NRG Arena is not in bad of shape as the Astrodome, but because the arena is used for the rodeo in the spring, it tends to carry an unpleasant smell in the morning.
Buvens said one of the reasons the committee considered other venues is so everyone can have the opportunity to come back to campus after their commencement and be with their families. She said because NRG holds so many commencements in a day, students were not allowed not linger to talk with their families in the parking lot after the ceremony.
“[NRG staff members] herded us in, and they herded us out,” Buvens said. “It didn’t provide the kind of experience that we wanted to provide; a high-end, quality, nice experience.”
Buven said 851 UST students are expected to graduate this spring, including 337 undergraduates and 513 graduate students.
Buvens noted that the first cohort of UST’s new Doctor of Education program graduates this year, and that its 24 graduates will be hooded on stage during commencement.
“That’s usually a really neat part of the ceremony,” she said.
Although the new venue means a longer travel time from UST to commencement (the distance from UST to Smart Financial Centre is 21 miles, while the distance from UST to NRG is 6.5 miles), Valeria Brito, a marketing and finance major graduating this spring said she understands why the relocation happened.
“The thing I don’t like is that Sugar Land is super far away, but anything else, I’m fine with it,” she said.
Liam Ruane, a finance and economics major graduate, said the change of venue would not really affect him.
“As long as I graduate,” Ruane said, “I don’t care.”