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Graduation held in Stadium again

Megan Doyle | Friday, May 20, 2011

After four years in the stands, the Class of 2011 will continue a recent University tradition and march down the tunnel Sunday to gather in the Notre Dame Stadium for the last time as a group.

Commencement for the graduating seniors will be held in the Stadium for the second year in a row, University Registrar Dr. Harold Pace said.

The venue allows seniors to invite as many guests as they want to the Commencement celebration. This year, Pace said over 21,000 guests will attend the ceremony, which will take place at 9 a.m. Sunday.

“The Notre Dame ceremony is truly a family celebration together,” Pace said. “It is just very unique and there is a special feeling among that group of graduates and family and faculty and administrators there … It feels like a family atmosphere and celebration.”

Pace said moving Commencement to the Stadium improved the overall graduation experience for last year’s senior class.

“I think you have to put the fact of going down the ramp and that experience, as a group and as a class together, it’s such a great celebration,” Pace said. “So the celebration itself is good. We saw last year as we came on stage … the students seemed to be happier.”

Prior to the switch in 2010, seniors received four tickets to the Commencement ceremony in the Joyce Center. However, with limited seating in the venue following its recent renovation, Pace said a change was needed.

“We moved to the Stadium [last year] because the Joyce Center seating was changed and reduced by about 2,000,” he said. “So we moved out to the Stadium simply to be able to say to our students, ‘Invite as many people as you like and we are going to be able to take care of all of them here.'”

Without a limit on tickets for each student, Pace said graduates were able to invite more family and friends to share in the ceremony.

“What we found from the graduates’ standpoint is they invited people that maybe weren’t just part of their immediate family,” Pace said. “So all the brothers and sisters got to come and that was great.”

This year, the Office of the Registrar reported the largest request was 99 tickets in one group, followed by a request for 70 tickets and another for 50.

Students especially enjoyed the walk down the tunnel before they entered the Stadium, Pace said.

“We decided it would be so neat at Notre Dame to have the students go down that tunnel and then be seated on the field for Commencement,” Pace said. “It was a great experience to watch the students go down the tunnel. There were so many smiles and so much anticipation from the students as they were waiting to go down.”

The biggest challenge for an outdoor ceremony is the threat of bad weather, Pace said.

He said several options were considered for the ceremony in the event of rain or weather problems.

“What seemed to be a better model for us was to stay outside in the rain,” Pace said. “Only in the event of severe weather will we go inside. We have very specific things we will look for there — very high wind, torrential rain, lightning, tornadoes, all those things, would drive us inside. We make that call on Sunday morning.”

In the event of severe weather, Pace said each student receives three severe weather tickets for the ceremony inside the Joyce Center.

Assistant Registrar Laura Spaulding said more graduate students attended the University Commencement ceremony in the Stadium than in past years.

“The graduate business and the graduate law and graduate schools didn’t have many students come to the Joyce Center,” Spaulding said. “But last year because of the Stadium, I think, there were lots of those students who came to the ceremony.”

Pace said graduate students typically receive their degrees Saturday prior to the University-wide ceremony, but agreed the Stadium venue drew more to participate Sunday as well.

In total, 2,700 students will attend the Commencement ceremony.

The University will also award 13 honorary degrees Sunday and at least two recipients will be familiar names to students.

“This year we have two of our own where people will know these people getting honorary degrees. Chuck Lennon from the Alumni Association is a real favorite of the students. He’s been at pep rallies, and people know him,” Pace said. “And then Lou Holtz, so people know him if not from football in the stadium then from TV.”

Few changes were made from the 2010 ceremony in the Stadium, Spaulding said. Graduates will form lines outside the Stadium 15 minutes later than last year, but all other details essentially remain the same.

“[Last year] the students were at Library Quad playing Red Rover because they were there a little early,” Pace said.

The Stadium ceremony does include traditional features that are meaningful to students, Pace said.

“It’s always interesting to hear the valedictorian’s speech,” Pace said. “Here is a student, up there in front of everyone, talking about these last four years as an undergraduate. So I always think that is a high point for me, hearing what the valedictorian has to say and hearing their remarks.”

Just as the student body sings “Notre Dame, Our Mother” in unison after each football game, the students will sway together and sing the Alma Mater at Commencement before leaving the stadium.

“When they sing the Alma Mater as a group, we have them turn and face their parents and their guests, and they all were swaying and singing the Alma Mater together,” Spaulding said. “I think it was really a touching moment for the students.”