Toss your cap. Turn your tassel. Just don’t snap that selfie.
Graduates at the University of South Florida and Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, have been asked to refrain from taking self-portraits with their cellphones as they collect their diplomas. The seemingly simple directive stands out for placing the slightest curtailment on a collective societal march toward sharing every waking moment on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the like.
Kyra Ciotti, a 22-year-old mass communication major at USF, has taken selfies lying in bed, riding in a car, posing with her dog, taking a shot of tequila, and whenever she feels like her hair is having a particularly good day. She had planned to keep her arm extended as she walked across the stage at a ceremony Friday, capturing the moment for a sister in Australia.
Now, chastened by the university’s admonition that it’s improper and fearful of a threat to withhold diplomas, she’ll keep her phone away.
“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” she said as she posed on campus in her cap and gown for some early graduation pictures. “But I don’t want to be disrespectful.”
For others, the simple act of outlawing selfies may have sparked the desire for one.
Anthony Sanchez, a 22-year-old microbiology major at USF, said he’s taken only a few selfies in his life. But he’s not ruling out another at this weekend’s ceremony.
“It put the idea in my head,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought of it until they said don’t do it.”
Self-portraits have been around since the early days of photography, but it was the growth of cellphone cameras that made them into a cultural phenomenon. A selfie Ellen DeGeneres took at the Oscars this year became the most retweeted item in history, but the snapshots have become so widespread that they’ve been taken by everyone from President Barack Obama (who was criticized for one with other world leaders at the funeral of Nelson Mandela) to Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide (who took an otherworldly shot outside the International Space Station). “Selfie” was even declared the 2013 word of the year by Oxford University Press.
Administrators at both USF and Bryant said their intentions were far less dramatic than making a statement about a generation often accused of oversharing. They said they were simply trying to keep already-long ceremonies from dragging on even longer.
“It’s your moment in the sun right next to everyone else’s moment in the sun,” said Michael Freeman, the USF dean of students who issued the guidelines saying selfies were banned, along with marching, strolling, and other fanciful methods of accepting a diploma. Freeman said a handful of graduates took on-stage selfies during the December commencement, and he has noticed students growing more and more cavalier as they approach the university president. Aside from keeping the ceremony on time, he wanted to maintain decorum.
“I don’t have an anti-selfie bent,” he said. “I would just caution students to think there’s a time and place.”
Neither USF nor Bryant has issued a blanket ban on selfies. Students are free to take them throughout the ceremony, just not on stage.
Sheila Guay, the special events director at Bryant, said selfies would take away from the ceremony and ruin photos that family members try to capture.
She echoed Freeman, saying: “There is a time and place for them, and here is not one of them.”
Most schools have taken no stance on the selfie craze, but some are staking a position opposite to USF and Bryant.
At Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, all of this year’s graduation festivities are built around a theme of new media. The school is circulating a hashtag it’s encouraging students to use to tweet throughout the celebrations. It’s also setting up a selfie booth with props and has no problem if students take them on stage.
“The college will not limit that kind of self-expression,” said Melissa Anderson, the school’s executive director of marketing and communications. “As a point of pride, we hope students take a lot of selfies.”
Similarly, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is also eager to see its graduates’ selfies. Kelly Bennett, the school’s social media coordinator, said Miami would share students’ selfies on Twitter and Instagram. She said graduates were just exhibiting their excitement and that other colleges should embrace it.
“I’ve never seen it disruptive,” she said. “I think when you make a big deal out of it, then most people want to push the line.”
Whether students will push the line remains to be seen. USF’s warning that it might keep violators’ diplomas has gotten the attention of many seniors on campus, but Freeman, the dean, had a confession.
“Between you, me, and the wall, that’s basically an empty threat,” he said.
Associated Press writer Paige Sutherland in Boston contributed to this report.