Ponchos in plans for UI commencement, just in case

Ponchos in plans for UI commencement, just in case

Cap and gown.

Check.

Obligatory "Thanks, Mom" message.

Check.

Rain poncho.

Check.

Graduation gear is evolving this spring at the University of Illinois, with the first outdoor commencement in four decades.

Because of construction at the State Farm Center, the May 17 campuswide ceremony was moved to Memorial Stadium. And that's prompted changes, including an official UI rain poncho issued to each graduate.

"Everything's different, truthfully," said Laura Wilhelm-Barr, director of special events.

With the larger venue, a single ceremony is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. May 17, a Saturday, rather than the split Sunday morning and afternoon ceremonies of recent years.

A temporary floor will be brought in earlier that week to cover the stadium field, as planners concluded that chair legs would sink into the turf.

"We don't want to harm the field," Wilhelm-Barr said.

The stage will be set up on the east side of the field on the 50-yard line, facing west, and all graduates and faculty will be seated on the field in front of the stage. Guests will sit in the west stands, with spillover available in the horseshoe and the "Block I" student section on the north, she said.

Wilhelm-Barr said the east stands probably won't be needed. In past years about 8,000 spectators attended the morning and afternoon ceremonies combined at the former Assembly Hall. The stadium's west stands hold about 12,000 people, the horseshoe another 10,000, and the Block I student section holds 5,000.

Wilhelm-Barr is expecting 3,000 students to go through the ceremony, as 2,600 undergraduates and master's-degree students have already registered, plus another 200 doctoral candidates. That's up from 2,700 who attended the two ceremonies combined in recent years, she said. About 11,000 students are eligible for commencement (including December and August graduates).

She attributes the increased interest to the new venue and the keynote speaker, UI alumnus and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins.

The Saturday scheduling may also be a draw. In past years many students would attend their own department or college ceremony on Saturday and skip Sunday's commencement because they were leaving town, she said. This year the unit ceremonies are set for Saturday afternoon and evening and all day Sunday.

Larger college ceremonies formerly held at the State Farm Center had to be moved to Huff Hall, which bumped some events previously held at Huff to Foellinger Auditorium. That may mean some ticket limitations for those events, she said.

Commencement will proceed rain or shine unless lightning is spotted within 8 miles. Crowds will be directed to take shelter inside the stadium in the event of a dangerous storm.

The UI chorus and wind orchestra will perform as usual, but under a tent in case of rain — mostly to protect the expensive instruments. The stage has an overhang for the platform party, which should help unless the rain goes sideways, she said. Guests will be allowed to bring in umbrellas, which are banned during UI football games.

For those seated on the field, "that's where the rain ponchos come in handy," Wilhelm-Barr said. They'll be clear, so graduation regalia shows through, with an orange column "I" logo on the back.

The procession into the stadium will include doctoral candidates, students with University Honors, faculty, and bearers of the "gonfalons," or banners, depicting each college (it's an industry term, apparently). They will line up inside the Activities and Recreation Center and process out a back door and across Irwin Drive into the north end of the stadium. The ARC will be closed to the public that day.

Parking will still be allowed in Lot E-14, and shuttles will run both days from there to the department or college ceremonies around campus and to the reception at the President's House immediately following Saturday's commencement.

Catch him if you can

Mike Hopkins will be busy during his four-day visit to the UI, attending a commencement breakfast for athletes and touring engineering facilities, the Air Force ROTC and the Center for Wounded Veterans' site in Urbana. Here are his public appearances:

3 p.m. Friday — First post-mission talk about his time aboard the International Space Station, National Center for Supercomputing Applications auditorium.

9:30 a.m. Saturday — Keynote speaker at UI commencement, Memorial Stadium.

11 a.m. Monday — Keynote speaker at the Triservice ROTC commissioning ceremony, Foellinger Auditorium.

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