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Putting the Uncommon into the Common: A Call for Action on Adding Majors to Diplomas

By: Nickolas Bartel and Steve Watts, Red & Black Contributors

NOV. 22 - Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) is an institution that acknowledges the individuality of its students. The college celebrates the accomplishments of students across a broad range of talents from its athletes to its artists to its scientists and businesspeople. We have a wide range of academic programs that allow us to pursue our individual goals. The school also recognizes us for who we are. Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, Washington & Jefferson has provided a place for us to call home. Indeed, we, as the W&J community, is just as incredibly unique as this college is. As President Knapp has said himself, the first-year student class (Class of 2026) is the most diverse class that W&J has ever seen.

W&J Students graduate with a Bachelor of Arts and recieve diplomas written in English and Latin. (Photo Courtesy W&J College)
Our school has the First-Year Student program that offers support from both fellow students and professors in guiding our first-year students’ important decision in finding their major. We have a writing lab and PAL tutoring where students can find academic help from their peers to help our peers along their major. Our professors know us by our names unlike at many larger universities. We know the difference a W&J education makes. W&J pushes us to celebrate what makes our educations unique.

However, despite that push for individuality, when we receive our diplomas after crossing that stage, they will look almost identical to each other. They will say only that we earned a Bachelor of Arts, but not in what disciplines. We come to W&J, each looking to prepare ourselves for our next step into adulthood with the major or majors that we choose, but the path to get to that next step is different for everyone. Yet, our diplomas do not reflect that uniqueness.

Unfortunately, the Student Government Association (SGA) has been unable to help resolve this. Last academic year, at the first meeting of the year, former Class Representative Nickolas Bartel (’23) introduced unanimously supported legislation to have the Executive Board work with the administration to resolve this issue. Following it reaching the Board of Trustees, it was sadly denied. The Executive Board reported to the General Assembly that the Board of Trustees had concerns with the proposal, some of them being about the logistics of graduation itself with passing out the diplomas or not getting them printed properly to match the accurate majors.
"Our diplomas are symbols of our pride in our education and prove our uncommon qualifications in the professional workforce"
With a value of around $250,000 and 4 years of our lives, this document carries the strong reputation of a high-quality education and having received an education uniquely designed to develop our individual potential as leaders. Our diplomas are symbols of our pride in our education and prove our uncommon qualifications in the professional workforce. Whether you graduate in May, next year, or in a few years, your decision, along with the support and care of your major advisor, deserve to be represented on one of the single most visible representations of our education.

"Our educational experience has all been unique to our major with the classes that we take and the opportunities pursued. Our diplomas must all be unique to our major and reflect that."

This year, despite being struck down before, the desire for changing the diplomas is still there as seen by Representatives advocating within SGA meetings for these changes. So, the question becomes why this time will be any different. We have spent time thinking about the Board of Trustees’ concerns and have another proposal to put before you, the W&J community.
Commencement for the Class of 2023 falls on May 20, 2023. (Photo Courtesy W&J College)
Currently, we present graduating seniors with two diplomas, one written in English and the other written in Latin. Instead, we suggest that seniors will be presented with their diploma with Bachelor of Arts written on it in Latin as we have now. Seniors could then be presented the option of including their majors on their English diploma or keeping it as it is. It could then be mailed to the address of their choice following graduation. This allows for all necessary grades to be entered and double checked that every student will meet the requirements for their major or majors. It also resolves the issue of not giving out a diploma or handling the logistics that a major specific diploma would add to the graduation process.
Our educational experience has all been unique to our major with the classes that we take and the opportunities pursued. Our diplomas must all be unique to our major and reflect that. We, as an institution, have an opportunity to recognize our students’ individual achievements and hard work as they earned their major with including it on our diplomas. We call on the administration to work with us and other stakeholders to quickly resolve this issue before another class of Presidents graduates. We call on our fellow Presidents to work with us in this conversation and bring your ideas to the table. Finally, we call on our Student Government, as our elected representatives, to join our efforts in ensuring that our academic achievements are represented when we walk across the graduation stage.


The following article is an Opinions piece that contains opinions of the writer(s). Opinions pieces are not always representative of the Red & Black Student Newspaper as a whole.

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1 Comment

Dec 13, 2022

Perspective from a previous registrar... Your diploma says Bachelor of Arts because that is the degree that W&J has the authority to confer. Your major is not part of your degree title; it is the specific area of focus you studied while completing your degree, which is reflected on your transcript. While I appreciate the thought put into this by the SGA and student body, and can understand your confusion and dissatisfaction, I would be surprised if the college moved in this direction. Even if it were a best practice to include major(s) on an undergraduate diploma, given the cost, time, effort, etc. to produce the variations of Latin and English (with the student deciding whether to include major(s) individually) and to…

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