GCC Commencement moves to Comerica Theatre


Arizona Federal Theatre (formerly Comerica) was set to be the host of Glendale Community College’s commencement ceremony before it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Seth Askelson/ The Voice)

GLENDALE, Ariz – After a challenging search, Glendale Community College has found a new site for spring 2020 commencement, school president Dr. Teresa Leyba-Ruiz announced in an email Nov. 19.

Comerica Theatre, located at 400 W. Washington Street in downtown Phoenix, will be the venue for this year’s GCC commencement. It is scheduled for May 9 at 10 a.m.

Grand Canyon University Arena has been the most recent host for commencement for GCC, until the University added terms to the contract that weren’t originally agreed upon, such as access to graduates’ information. Maricopa County Community College District attorneys did not agree to these new terms and declined to share this information.

“I would never, ever, do anything to jeopardize our students,” Leyba-Ruiz said. “I believe very strongly that there’s three things we should always do as an institution of higher education, when it comes to decisions we make. We should be consistent; we should follow all policies and laws and regulations, and we should keep our students safe.”

The Voice reached out to GCU for comment about the move but have not received a reply by print time.

“[The move] was extremely disappointing for us because Grand Canyon is a nice site,” Leyba-Ruiz said. “It’s big, it can house all of our students and all their families without us having to out a restriction on the number of tickets a graduate could have.”

Leyba-Ruiz said that the district knew that GCU would not rent to them for commencement without agreeing to the added contract terms.

Due to this, the GCC Commencement Planning Committee, chaired by interim vice president of student affairs Dr. Monica Castaneda, started a search for a new west Valley venue that fit the criteria they were looking for. These criteria included space, availability, accessibility and parking.

One possibility was State Farm Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals. It had several criteria the committee was looking for; plenty of size for families and graduates, accessibility and lots of parking. The issue is the stadium is booked well in advance for the week of commencement and would not negotiate even a non-guaranteed contract for 2021 until closer to the event. According to Leyba-Ruiz, renting the stadium costs around $40,000, making the cost also a factor.

The Neighboring Gila River Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, was also looked at as an option. At the time of commencement, however, the Coyotes could be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which would bump the district out.

Commencement has been held outside and on campus in the past, but the committee wanted to avoid that due to the risks and unpredictability of the weather.

“With temperatures rising every summer, it seems to be that the summer comes sooner, so before it would get really hot like, not until June, well now it gets kind of hot in May,” Castaneda said.

Castaneda said that at some of the other colleges, people have passed out due to the heat, or had to stand in the rain for outdoor commencements.

To avoid having to hold an outside commencement, the committee had to look beyond the west Valley, but there still weren’t many options.

Desert Financial Arena, the home of Arizona State University’s basketball teams and other sports, was looked at, but the long drive was a concern.

“We cannot make our students drive to Tempe, we need to just only make them drive to central Phoenix,” Castaneda said.

Comerica Theatre was decided on because it fit some of the needed criteria; namely its auditorium style building and large stage. The building holds 5000 people, 2000 less than GCU Arena, which could create a bigger limitation for tickets. Two options for tickets were decided upon; assigning each graduate five tickets, or open seating on a first-come first-serve basis.  Castaneda said that the latter has been the most effective option for GCC in recent years.

Due to the nature of parking downtown, students and staff may have to pay for parking, as Comerica Theatre does not have its own lot. MCCCD is attempting to negotiate an agreement with Phoenix to allow students and staff to use a city-owned parking structure for free on the day of commencement. The city, however, will not negotiate a contract until a few months before in case bigger renting opportunities come up.

According to Castaneda, there are multiple other options to use for transportation if parking is an issue, including using a ride-sharing service, taking the light rail or carpooling.

Adding to the new elements this year, Commencement will be held on a Saturday morning, May 9, the first weekend of summer vacation.

According to Leyba-Ruiz, Saturday was chosen as the date because it was the only available day during the week of commencement that made sense.

“The only other available day during that week of commencement was on Tuesday, well that’s, not a good day because that’s finals week,” Leyba-Ruiz said.

Castaneda said that the committee thinks Saturday morning is the best option for students for multiple reasons, including the possibility of having more empty parking structures than there would be for a weekday, and allowing time for relatives to arrive from out-of-town.

With May 9 being after the last day official day of the spring semester, faculty have said they were worried about not being compensated for commencement.

  Leyba-Ruiz said that faculty will have the option to use a personal day if they cannot make it, or “flex” some of their hours over to Saturday.

“We have 277 full time faculty on our staff, every year, about 10 percent of our faculty, for whatever reason, graduations or vacations…they aren’t able to participate in commencement, that’s fine, they just let us know,” Leyba-Ruiz said.

Above all, commencement is a time for celebration.

“It’s the best thing. It is the most exciting time,” Leyba-Ruiz said.” Students are so excited, families are yelling and screaming, it’s just a big giant party, as it should be.”


*Editors Note: Dr. Monica Castaneda’s last name was originally spelled with an ‘e’ in the print edition of the story, but has been corrected online. We greatly apologize for the error.