By Colleen Jenkins
(Reuters) – Ellen DeGeneres snapped “selfies” at the Oscars and President Barack Obama posed for one at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, but some U.S. colleges have asked students to keep their cell phones tucked away during graduation season this month when they walk on stage for their diplomas.
Officials at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, one of several colleges trying to limit the spontaneous self-portraits that proliferate social media sites, said they asked graduates to preserve decorum at its May 17 commencement.
A handful of students drew laughs – and caught administrators by surprise – when they whipped out their smartphones for selfies on stage at last year’s graduation, said university relations director Elizabeth O’Neil.
With 758 students due to graduate this month, the school decided to take action before things got carried away.
“We didn’t want the ceremony to become longer than the 3-1/2 hours it already is by having students pause to take photos,” O’Neil said.
She said pictures posted on social media with Bryant University’s commencement hashtag also will be featured on a screen for families to see before the event.
Aaron Pereira, 22, a senior at Bryant who does not object to the new rule, expects a selfie-snapping frenzy as students don their robes and line up for the procession.
“It’s an emotional day,” said the accounting major from Chicopee, Massachusetts. “It’s definitely something you want to capture.”
Before graduation ceremonies in Tampa last week, the University of South Florida warned students who snapped selfies, marched or strolled on stage that they could have their degrees withheld.
Graduates heeded the request, said a school spokeswoman, settling for the professional photos made for each student with the university president during the ceremony.
Kent State University in Ohio has created a “selfie zone” with large frames and special backdrops for graduates as they line up for commencement ceremonies on Saturday, an effort to embrace social media without it becoming a distraction.
The school will stream a feed of students’ pictures inside the graduation arena before ceremonies begin, said university spokesman Eric Mansfield.
Kent State has not imposed a hard rule against taking self-portraits on stage, but Mansfield said officials hope students will be less inclined to do so given the other photo opportunities.
“It will help them just focus on the moment of achievement when they get on stage,” he said.
Some students at Bryant University in Rhode Island said the no-selfie rules were no big deal.
“This whole selfie nation has gotten out of control,” said Aubrey Mable, 21, a communication major from Denver, Colorado. “That never even crossed my mind that I was going to do it in the first place.”
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Editing by Grant McCool)