Commencement 2014 is just a few weeks away. It is a time of great celebration and joy for graduates and their families. It’s also time when we get a lot of questions in the Parent Programs office about Commencement. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts from nearly 15 Commencements on campus. Take them for what you will.
Weather: pay attention to the weather forecast for the days leading up to Commencement, and pack clothes accordingly. That could include rain wear, umbrellas, light jackets, or your warmest, lightest clothing. Keep an eye on the weather. And between now and Commencement, your job is to send prayers and positive thoughts for a sunny day around 75 degrees with a light breeze. That in my opinion is the ideal weather.
Attire: People always ask “what should we wear? how formal is it?” My first bit of advice is that you need to dress for the weather. It can be cool in the morning, hot if the sun is going to be out. In terms of what people wear, you could see everything from suits and ties and dressy spring suits for women, to sundresses and golf shirts and slacks. The tendency is to be a little more dressy perhaps, but Deac men should give themselves the option of taking off the jacket and loosening the tie if it gets warm. Deac women, think about if you tend to be hot or cold natured and determine whether you want the option of a jacket or sweater or pashmina.
Shoes: Leave your most expensive and cherished shoes at home! Really. The Quad grass will be dewy in the morning. If you wear your most impressive shoes, it is almost certain they will get wet, and very likely specked with mud or grass. There are literally close to 10,000 people on the Quad, and the grass paths between sections of seating on the lawn do get worn down to the dirt (or mud, depending on the wetness of the ground). Use your favorite fancy shoes if you go to Baccalaureate (as it is inside), but be conservative and wear shoes that you don’t mind potentially getting wet on Commencement day.
Sunscreen is a must. Repeat: sunscreen is a must. Or a hat. Or both. If we hold the ceremony outside (again, prayers welcome for great weather!), you will be outside for 3+ hours and there are not enough areas of shade. If you are sensitive to light and sun, be aware of this. And tell your graduates to wear sunscreen too!
Think about the comfort of grandparents or older relatives: my grandmother wanted very much to see me graduate in 1992, but she was very sensitive to heat and sun, and was not able to walk a long ways. While we do our best to make everyone comfortable, if you have relatives for whom an outdoor event would not be good for them, please consider that before you all come. Each family needs to make the decision that is best for them. There is typically a live webcast of Commencement, which might be a great option.
Seating on the Quad: seating is on folding chairs (not particularly fancy). Bring some paper towels or a washcloth from your hotel (please return them!) to wipe off your chairs at Commencement. While the staff tries to go through and wipe the dew off the chairs, they are not always able to get to all 10,000 chairs before guests arrive.
When to arrive Commencement Day: everyone asks this, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. My own parents were in line at 6 am because they wanted to be among the first to get on the Quad and have their pick of all the seats. They then had a 3 hour wait, so they read the paper, took a stroll, etc. Other of my friends’ parents chose to arrive later. Only you will know how important it is to you to get there early and have lots of options about seating vs. how much you want to avoid having a longer wait before the ceremony starts. Know that there will be traffic, and there will be lines as you check in, so plan accordingly.
Bathrooms: there are many. Residence halls and Reynolda Hall are open, but there will be lines. You might fare well to consider going to the Benson Center (a short walk) or Scales Fine Arts Center (closer to the Quad) if you don’t want to wait. Because we read every student’s name, you will be able to see how long it takes as they begin and can plan your restroom break accordingly.
FYI on the ceremony proper: the Commencement ceremony has run 2.5 to 3 hours in recent years. It starts promptly at 9 am. There will be a break in the ceremony to allow graduate and professional students to go to their respective ceremonies (and for their families to follow). So know that there will be some seats taken early in the day that become vacant at the break, and know also that you are able to get up and move around.