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Colleges divided on commencement selfies

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, May 10, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Selfies, the ubiquitous cellphone self-portraits — the Oxford Dictionary dubbed “selfie” the 2013 word of the year — established a culture clash on college campuses this spring.

Some commencement planners are torn between tradition and the latest trend: students seeking to share their milestone event on stage.

The University of South Florida in Tampa and Bryant University in Rhode Island made headlines by banning selfies onstage during graduation ceremonies.

Other schools decided they can't beat digital culture and might as well celebrate it.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania embraced social media, suggesting Twitter posts #iupcongrats and posting live tweets, and has showed student selfies on screen during commencement for three years, spokeswoman Michelle Fryling said. It will reprise the practice at commencement on Saturday.

“We like it. We're proud of the students, and they're proud. This is a celebration. This is their day,” Fryling said.

That's how Nicole Laster saw it when she took the stage to give her speech as president of the senior class at Florida State University last week.

When Laster shot a selfie during her speech at the Tallahassee school and posted it to Twitter, the university posted the image on its Facebook page with the message: “Our Class of 2014 senior class president Nicole Laster took a great selfie during her commencement speech!”

“It got over 700 likes. Our keynote speaker actually suggested the alumni association hire me,” said Laster, 21, who majored in marketing. She hopes the shot showcasing her chutzpah, will boost her stock as she chases job opportunities in advertising.

Although no Pittsburgh-area universities banned selfies at commencement, Point Park University President Paul Hennigan surprised some media-savvy students last week with a brief announcement at the opening of graduation ceremonies at Consol Energy Center.

“Since a photographer will be present, and given the dignity of the ceremony, candidates should refrain from taking pictures while on stage,” Hennigan said.

The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg posted on its Facebook page commencement shots such as one Katie Greenier snapped of herself and friends Gen Wagner and Nate LaSor, decked out in caps and gowns.

Greenier, 23, of Penn Township took the shot as they exited the procession. They didn't think of taking a selfie with university President Sharon Smith, “But I'll bet someone does next year,” Greenier said.

At the University of Cincinnati, President Santo Ono — whose Twitter feed has 31,000 followers — posed on stage with students snapping selfies at commencement two weeks ago.

Digital media director Jeremy Martin monitored Twitter and Instagram to post a live feed of messages and photos on video boards in the arena.

Some people worried that snapshots might slow a lengthy ceremony but that didn't happen, Martin said. And parents and students eager to share their good news posted nearly 6,000 tweets with the university's commencement hashtag.

“We fully plan on doing it again,” Martin said.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or

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