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Administration plans ceremony

Nicole Michels | Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Class of 2013 will graduate from Notre Dame this weekend as years of study culminate in 19 diploma ceremonies and more than 100 events celebrating the accomplishments of the University’s youngest alumni.

University Registrar Chuck Hurley said although the pressure on everyone involved in the weekend is enormous, it is one of the most rewarding times for the University.

“It’s a lot of pressure on students because they’re trying to balance seeing their friends for the last time, moving out, and dealing with family and guests while trying to organize things,” Hurley said. “It’s a lot of pressure on the president and the University and other leadership because they have a lot of events to go to.

It’s a lot of pressure on our office because we have 22 people in the registrar’s office who are trying to put in grades, … get the summer session running and put on a commencement for 26 to 27 thousand people, with over 100 events throughout the weekend.

“It’s probably the most pressure-filled time for the whole of the University community – but it’s worth it.”

This year’s 19 diploma ceremonies – a one-ceremony increase from last year – will include the law school, the graduate school and individual diploma ceremonies for the College of Arts and Letters, the Mendoza College of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Science, Hurley said.

The increase in diploma ceremonies was due to the addition of the Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics (ACMS) major to the College of Science, Hurley said.

“[The Colleges of] Arts and Letters, Business and Architecture have one ceremony for all of the students graduating in their college,” Hurley said. “[The Colleges of Science and Engineering] have elected to have a separate ceremony for each one of their majors.”

The University honors the advanced studies graduates Saturday with three commencement ceremonies, Hurley said. Law students gather in the library mall, while graduate business students meet in Purcell Pavilion and other graduate students assemble in the Compton Arena to receive their diplomas.

The undergraduate commencement is the highlight of Sunday’s celebration of undergraduate achievement, Hurley said. Students begin the day in Notre Dame Stadium for the commencement ceremony and then attend their specific diploma ceremonies in the afternoon.

The University hosts more than 100 additional events, such as luncheons and honors society dinners, for graduates and their families, Hurley said. He said the finalization of the events and ceremonies for this year’s commencement weekend marked the first step in the coordination process.  

“We go through [the list of events] based on the event size, estimated number of graduates attending the ceremony and estimated number of guests attending that ceremony, putting them into various locations like [the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center] or RecSports or Jordan Auditorium,” Hurley said. “That’s one of the first things we do every year and that is why it’s very important that students fill out their ticket requests. … On average, we’ve found that each student brings 8.2 guests to [undergraduate] commencement.”

Though the individual college and program diploma ceremonies limit the number of tickets available to students, Hurley said students are allowed to bring as many guests as they want to the undergraduate commencement ceremony.

“We have some students that bring no guests, but last year we had a student who brought 90 family members [because] she was the first person in her family to graduate from college, … which is great,” Hurley said.

The undergraduate commencement ceremony was moved from the Joyce Center in response to student requests voiced to University President Fr. John Jenkins, Hurley said. After considering the move, in 2010 Jenkins moved the ceremony to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since the 1950s.

“We saw an almost tripling of attendance,” Hurley said. “That first year, I believe we had almost 27 or 28 thousand, and it was good for the University community.”

Hurley said the primary logistical challenge involved with coordinating the undergraduate commencement ceremony is the need to respect the football field.

“We can’t bring in trucks and have them drive all over the field turf. … We have to be very respectful of the field,” Hurley said. “We put this field-covering system – it’s like a plastic jigsaw puzzle – over the field and set up the stage, sound system and seating over that.

“We have to be very careful of how we do that. Part of it is done with forklifts [and] part of it is done with taking pieces off of trucks and carrying them into the stadium by hand. It takes a little bit longer, but it allows us to make sure we’re respectful of the football field and that we don’t destroy it.”

The Athletic Department has been an indispensible partner to the Office of the Registrar while coordinating this ceremony, Hurley said.  

“I can’t say enough about Dan Brazo, stadium director, and Mike Branch, associate athletic director – this isn’t something they normally do,” Hurley said. “They’re normally running football games and other athletic events, but they bend over backwards for students. … They do everything they can to put on a beautiful commencement for the students.”

At the undergraduate commencement ceremony, attendees will listen to the bestowment of the Laetare Medals, as well as addresses by commencement speaker Cardinal Timothy Dolan and valedictorian Mallory Meter, Hurley said. After the recipients are recognized, Jenkins will confer degrees onto the students.

“Each dean steps forward and asks Fr. John [Jenkins] to confer the degrees onto the students in his or her college,” Hurley said. “Then the students from that college are asked to rise, Fr. John says his part and confers the degrees, and then the students go off and in the afternoon ceremonies get their diplomas and the handshake onstage.”

Although coordinating the weekend’s events requires a lot of effort, Hurley said it all comes down to welcoming to Notre Dame those who contributed to their students’ journeys to the University.

“[On this weekend], individuals who have made a lot of sacrifices for their students to attend Notre Dame visit here and are really awed by the institution, by the aura of Notre Dame, and it gets very emotional for the family,” Hurley said. “It’s one of the best investments made at the institution. … It costs a lot of money to put on a ceremony in the stadium, but I think it’s some of the best funds spent at the institution because I think it’s important that we send our graduates off so positively.”   

Contact Nicole Michels at [email protected]