Commencement cacophony: Skateboarding, disruption, and recreation

Skaters Henry Smalley (‘25), Hayden Smith (‘23), Alexi Ebersole (‘23), Eli Fabricant (‘25), and Miles Lawson (‘23) (left to right) during a skate session on the Commencement walkway Photo Credit: Tate DeCarlo // The Trail

By Tate DeCarlo

Chances are, if you’ve had to walk to or from a class in Wyatt or Thompson on a sunny day, you’ve run the gauntlet of skateboarders on the Commencement walkway. To some, navigating the herd may be an opportunity to say hello to friends or stop and chat, but for many, the skateboarders are a dynamic and overstimulating obstacle in their afternoon commute. Even if you manage to make it through unshaken, you probably won’t escape the sound of skaters until the sun goes down. Skateboarding on Commencement, thus, is an enjoyable pastime and part of campus life for some, whilst simultaneously disturbing the peace of others.

This conundrum begs an important question: why do skaters choose to inhabit the Commencement walkway over the numerous parking lots around campus? The answer is deceptively simple. Despite the student pedestrians, golf carts, and bikers around which the skaters must maneuver, the walkway’s smooth marble tiles make it all worthwhile.

“The vibrations from the constant little cracks feels really nice. I’ve always liked it, it’s like ASMR,” explained Tacoma local Rory Mitchell.

Mitchell’s appreciation for the satisfying tiles is echoed by others. Commencement regular and Trimble hall resident Eli Fabricant (‘25) also drew attention to the material. “Obviously Commencement, because it’s super smooth,” said Fabricant, when asked his favorite place to skateboard. “Also, I think we all like the pop sounds and it’s just convenient.”

More importantly, Commencement is one of the few places on campus where skateboarders are rarely asked to leave by campus security, making it a reliable space for sessions throughout the week. Miles Lawson (‘23) is on his fourth year of skating on campus, and recognizes that skating in some spots around the University results in a faster kick-out than others.

“I kind of stick to skating on Commencement because I know campus security doesn’t mind us being there. For the most part, I try to avoid defacing property or damaging property. But, when you’re riding a piece of wood with metal trucks on it, it’s difficult sometimes,” Lawson explains.

Campus Security bears no personal ill-will towards skaters. Greg Lynch, the Assistant Director of Security Services, and Chris Whitt, the Lead Campus Safety Officer, agree that requests to leave stem from enforcement of University policy rather than personal bias.

“The underlying concerns are, really from the University standpoint, quality of life, noise, and then liability and safety, and finally property damage. The tricks, when they’re done well, are usually pretty fine but when they don’t get ‘em right, you see a lot of scuff marks on the sidewalks and chips to the cement,” said Lynch.

In order to minimize these anxieties about damage to property and injuries to skaters — and the legal repercussions of both — the University allegedly has a rule that states skateboards are to be used only for transportation.

“Technically, it is published and printed, four wheels on the ground. It’s for transportation,” Lynch elaborates.

Though this rule is nowhere to be found on the Campus Wide Policies webpage, Security asserts that skateboards popping into the air is a violation of the University’s safety and liability precautions. Regardless of whether this rule is published, Security usually has higher priorities in upholding campus wellbeing than policing skateboarders. As long as there are no complaints, they are usually lax in their reinforcement of the four-wheels-on-the-ground rule. “If I see skateboarders, I don’t even really interact with them, unless somebody calls for a complaint. It’s usually a noise complaint or they’re doing jumps right next to a bunch of cars and somebody’s worried their car might get hit. If it’s just an open space and you’re out there skateboarding, I just let you be,” said Whitt.

Skateboarding sessions, therefore, can be shut down at the ring of a phone, and there isn’t anywhere around the University where skateboarders are truly free from risk of eviction. Once a complaint is called in, Security is expected to intervene. “There’s no area that I can particularly say that you might go,” Lynch confirmed.

All in all, though, skaters on campus agree that their relationship with campus security is a positive one, as long as each party is respectful of the other.

“I feel it’s very reciprocal. If you can show respect to campus security, they’ll give it back to you very easily,” said Lawson.

While Commencement is a favorite for skaters, they acknowledge that their presence can cause a disturbance to their peers. There have been several posts on the Instagram page “@upsmissedconnections” — which many students use to voice their thoughts and concerns — complaining about the noise caused by the skaters. Others have argued in these posts’ comments that Commencement is a public space that must be shared by all. Skater Henry Smalley (‘25) offers his take on the situation.

“It’s loud and kids are definitely annoyed by the presence it brings, which is fair, but at the same time, you know, I think everyone does what they do. Skating is just part of what we do on a daily basis,” said Smalley.

When it comes to relationships with students living in buildings near commencement, there seems to be a similar sentiment. Kylie Sullivan (‘26), a first year in Todd Phibbs explains that her annoyance with the skaters, while minimal, stems less from the noise and more from their physical imposition upon the space outside of her dorm.

“I don’t particularly enjoy when they crash into you, they’re like ‘Move!’ and I’m like, ‘No thank you.’” she said. “When there’s like a huge group of them, you’re like, ‘Okay, I guess I’ll walk on the grass.’”

However, she doesn’t feel like the noise they cause is much of a disturbance in comparison to the general racket coming from the area around Todd Field. From golf cart carts to lawnmowers to rowdy friend groups, skateboarders blend right in with the rest of the cacophony that is life on Commencement walkway.

“I would say the biggest noise I hear is the lawnmowers, those are the ones that really bother me. Other than that, the skateboarders are fine, they’re having a good time,” Sullivan said.

While there is not a unanimous opinion regarding the level of disturbance caused by skateboarders on Commencement, it is important that they consider their impact on the students around them if they want their presence to be welcoming. In order to be an approachable community on campus, skaters must keep in mind the wellbeing of their fellow students, faculty and staff, as well as campus property. In return, it is only fair that those with whom they share campus grant them a little grace as well. For a pastime with no school-sponsored space on campus, skaters are simply trying to find somewhere that offers a smooth surface and a place to congregate whilst causing as few problems as possible.

Smalley confirms, “we’re just trying to do what we like to do and trying to be conscientious of other people as well.”

Commencement walkway has become a cornerstone of skateboarding at the University of Puget Sound. Lawson feels a deeper connection with the pathway than simply its practicality. After multiple years of education at the University, Commencement has become a place that he associates not only with skateboarding, but also with community. Commencement represents the intersection between his identity as both student and skater, and resultantly, isn’t a spot he wants to give up.

“It’s definitely become a sentimental place for me, and it’d be hard to get me to stop skating on Commencement,” he concludes.