College graduations have changed

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NEW YORK — There’s still plenty of pomp and circumstance, inspiring words from speakers and tossing tassels, but graduating from college today is very different from a generation ago.

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Graduates pose for photographs during commencement at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. There's still plenty of pomp and circumstance, inspiring words from lofty speakers and tossing tassels, but today's college graduation ceremonies include many a contemporary twist.   FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Graduates pose for photographs during commencement at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. There's still plenty of pomp and circumstance, inspiring words from lofty speakers and tossing tassels, but today's college graduation ceremonies include many a contemporary twist.

STUDENT LOAN DEBT: In 1984, according to some estimates, only half of graduates had debt from college loans, averaging about $2,000. Now, two-thirds of recent bachelor’s degree recipients have outstanding student loans, with an average debt of about $27,000, according to a Pew Research Center report.

“Back in 1984, I was a fairly recent college grad. I had a $10,000 student loan and payments were $63.50 per month,” said financial planner Judy McNary in Broomfield, Colo. Rent on her apartment was $600, “so that loan payment was about 10 percent of the cost of our housing. Fast forward to 2014, and I have met many recent graduates whose loan payments are anywhere from $900 to $2,000 per month.”

SELFIES: Several schools are urging graduates to resist the selfie when they walk across the stage to get their diploma and shake hands with the college president. But selfies are OK at other points in commencements at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., and the University of South Florida in Tampa, two schools that banned selfies on stage.
How painful is the ban? “Nobody cares,” said Ali Luthman, 22, a Bryant senior. “There’s a time and a place when selfies are appropriate, and that’s not when you’re crossing the stage.”

Three decades ago, someone else had to take your picture with a film camera, head to the drugstore and pay to have the film developed, hoping for one nonblurry shot of the moment.

PET DIPLOMAS: It used to be a tearful farewell to Fido or Fluffy when you went away to school. But rules have loosened on some campuses, according to a 2011 survey of admissions officials by Kaplan Test Prep. Some allow pets in tanks, some have cat-designated floors and others have whole dorms dedicated to pet cohabiters.

Eckerd College has taken pet-friendly to a new level, holding its first “graduation” ceremony for the critters last year, complete with treats, diplomas and tiny mortarboards decorated.

Dean of students James J. Annarelli, who officiated at the commencement in St. Petersburg, Fla., said there were a few surprises. “Pet the snake. Watch the bird,” said one student who showed up with a slithery buddy wrapped around one wrist and a sharp-beaked feathered friend perched on the other.

Annarelli, who has a dog and cat, is a fan of pets helping students acclimate to campus life, especially those living far from home. About 20 students in last year’s graduating class of 500 participated in the pet commencement.

POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE: The traditional march prevails, with some renditions harkening to the past and others looking to the future.

At Eckerd, graduating students walk from campus to a tent in a field, led by five bagpipers playing traditional Scottish music. They switch to Pomp and Cir­cumstance as students enter the tent.
“The use of bagpipers goes to the earliest days of the college and reflects what a number of church-related colleges do,” Annarelli said.

At Georgia Tech in Atlanta, a band of dancing robots called Shimis perform at commencement. Shimi was developed at the school’s Center for Music Technology in conjunction with a lab in Israel. Controlled by Android smartphone technology, Shimi’s dance moves match whatever music it senses. Three Shimis performed to Pomp and Circumstance during commencement ceremonies in December and will be front and center again this year.

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