Commencement Day Advice

I’m still traveling, but wanted to reprise an oldie-but-goodie, my annual advice for Commencement. This is explicitly for parents and families of graduating seniors (P’19s), but our younger classes might want to read as well for future reference.

This will be my 18th Commencement, so I have been to this rodeo a time or two. Here are some tried and true suggestions that I hope will make your family’s experience more enjoyable:


Pay close attention to the weather forecast and pack accordingly. That could include rain wear, umbrellas, light jackets, or your coolest, lightest clothing. A note on umbrellas: due to security, you cannot have golf umbrellas, only the small collapsible umbrellas that fit into a tote. Note: if rain looks likely in the day or two before Commencement, there would be information and instructions on the Commencement website about the rain plan.

What to wear:

You will see everything from suits and ties and dressy spring suits for women, to sundresses and golf shirts and slacks. People tend to err on the more dressy side – think of things you might wear to a worship service or a nice dinner out.

Layering is critical. It could be cool in the morning, and much of where you sit is full sun – so nice to have the option of adding or subtracting a sweater or jacket as needed. Men, give yourself permission to take off your jacket and loosen your tie if it gets warm. No one needs to be overheated.

Sunscreen is a must. If you are sun sensitive, also consider a hat. You will be outside for 3+ hours, and while there are some trees, there is not enough to bring huge areas of shade.


Please do not wear your best/most expensive/fanciest shoes. Repeat: do not wear your best shoes. The Quad grass will be wet with dew in the morning. If you wear your most impressive/expensive shoes, it is almost certain they will get wet, grassy, and/or muddy. Save the fancy shoes for Baccalaureate (if you go), as it is an indoor event.

Older relatives:

Please think carefully about bringing elderly relatives and consider their comfort as you make that decision. It might be better for all for some family members not to attend. My own grandmother very much wanted to see me graduate, but she was very sensitive to heat and sun, and was not able to walk a long ways, nor stand up for a long time to wait in lines for the bathrooms. While we do our best to make everyone comfortable, if you have relatives for whom an outdoor event would not be good for them, consider that before you all come. Each family needs to make the decision that is best for them.

Note that there is a live feed of Commencement into Pugh Auditorium (in the Benson Center), which is indoors, air conditioned, and is close to restrooms. When families tell me that they are bringing elderly relatives, I usually encourage them to consider having them view from Benson (with another family member to assist them), rather than having them out in the sun the whole time.

Another caveat: because there are a lot of people on the Quad for Commencement, and going in and out of Wait Chapel for Baccalaureate, a lot of times people can’t see the ground in front of them (only the person in front of them). I have seen elderly guests miss a step up or down to get into a building or onto/off a curb, and they fall. Please be sure to keep an arm out for anyone who might need some steadying in navigating unfamiliar walkways.

Seating on the Quad:

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 12,000 chairs before guests arrive.

When to arrive Commencement Day:

Everyone asks this, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. My P’92s were on campus at 6 am when the lines opened because they wanted to be the first to get their seats of choice. They then had a 3 hour wait, so they read the paper, took a stroll, etc. Other families may want to arrive later.  Ask yourself 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 to wait once you arrive.

General seating is first come, first served, and you cannot save seats with signs. If you put signs on the seats, they will be removed. Know that there will be traffic, and there will be lines as you check in.


There are many bathrooms, but there can also be lines. Some residence halls on the Quad are typically open, others closed. Bathrooms in Reynolda Hall are open, but there will be lines.

You will likely find shorter lines at the Benson Center (a short walk) or Scales Fine Arts Center (closer to the Quad) if you don’t want to wait. We will also have executive port-o-johns (nice ones, with real sinks, etc.). 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.


The Starbucks in ZSR Library will be open. Also, please note that only official service animals will be allowed onto the Quad.

See additional Commencement FAQs from the Commencement website.

And here are a few pointers on Baccalaureate:


Seating inside Wait Chapel is limited and on a first-come basis. Tickets do not guarantee admission. Doors open at 8:00 a.m., but guests can expect to wait in line on Hearn Plaza before entering the Chapel. Graduates who process do not need tickets.

When to get in line:

There is not a set time to tell you when to get in line.  I can tell you that in past years, people have been in line at 7 am or earlier.  If this year works like all past years have, they will let parents in in 2 waves: the first one to fill the balcony and part of the lower level of Wait Chapel.  Then they shut the door and parents continue waiting in the line until we have seated all students and faculty who attend.

Once the students and faculty process into the chapel, they reopen the line and begin seating the remaining parents until the chapel is full.  In some years, everyone who wants to get in gets in, in other years, some are left in line.

Other options to view it:

Weather permitting, we stream the ceremony out onto the Quad – and to be perfectly honest, my preference is to sit on the Quad chairs and observe the ceremony there (you can get up and walk around, etc.)  There is no individual recognition of graduates (and they don’t get to sit with their families) so you aren’t really missing anything if you choose to view from outside.

See additional Baccalaureate FAQs from the website.

And as I do every year, I want to ask a favor. Please begin saying whatever prayers/invocations/supplications/casting of positive thoughts into the universe. The theme for this energy is wishing for good weather. We’re trying to invoke sunny with a light breeze, maybe 75 degrees 🙂


— by Betsy Chapman ’92, MA ’94

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