May UNL graduates will have a one-of-a-kind experience as the university is scheduled to hold commencement exercises in Memorial Stadium for what is believed to be the first time.
The ceremony for graduate degrees will be at 4 p.m. May 3, and the ceremony for baccalaureate degrees will be at 9:30 a.m. May 4. The College of Law will again conduct its spring commencement exercises in the Lied Center for Performing Arts, 301 N. 12th St. beginning at 3 p.m. May 4.
Since 1976, UNL has conducted commencement exercises in the Bob Devaney Sports Center, but it is unavailable while it undergoes extensive renovation to convert it from a primarily basketball arena into a primarily volleyball arena. Meanwhile, the new Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln's Haymarket area is not yet completed.
"Commencement exercises were generally conducted in the Coliseum from when it opened in 1926 until the Devaney Center opened, and in various venues before that, but as far as we can tell, they've never before been held in Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1923," said Annette Wetzel, UNL's special events coordinator and the author of a master's thesis on the history of the university's commencement exercises.
"The university made plans to conduct commencement in the stadium in May of 1969 with President Richard Nixon as the speaker. The ceremony was to be the culmination of the observance of the centennial of the University of Nebraska charter, but the plans were dropped when Nixon had to cancel, and the ceremony was moved to Pershing Auditorium."
Wetzel said several commencements were conducted in Pershing Auditorium in downtown Lincoln in the 1960s and 1970s. Commencements prior to 1926 were usually conducted outdoors in the mall east of Memorial Stadium's site, and some were conducted in St. Paul United Methodist Church, 1144 M. St.
The move to Memorial Stadium involves a nearly total revamping of logistics for the ceremonies -- parking, marshalling of graduates for the entrance and exit processionals, seating, and, of course, a little thing called the weather.
"It's created a number of exciting challenges for us because almost every aspect of our planning has changed, and we've had the opportunity to revisit each detail of the commencement ceremonies," said Jennifer Verhein, director of graduation services in the Office of the University Registrar. "My staff has worked exceptionally hard to prepare for the event, and we are determined that each participating graduate will receive their diploma as they cross the ceremony stage. We've had wonderful cooperation from the Athletic Department, Parking and Transit Services, the Alumni Association, University Police and many others to make these events truly special.
"We are excited to do everything we can -- within the limits of what we're able to control -- to make sure these are enjoyable and memorable events for the graduates and their families. Regrettably, we cannot control the weather, but we have put together good strategies for distributing diplomas if the weather turns foul."
Verhein said that if weather conditions compel a delay or cancellation of ceremonies, an announcement will be made as soon as possible through traditional and social media outlets. She said any weather delay will be limited to one hour. If weather still precludes an outdoor ceremony, degrees will be conferred and diplomas will be distributed in the Hawks Championship Center, the indoor practice facility northeast of Memorial Stadium that will also service as the marshalling area pre- and post-commencement.
Graduates will enter Memorial Stadium from the northeast and be seated in the center sections of the East Stadium.
Public entrance to the ceremonies will be through Gates 3 and 11 at the southwest and northwest corners of the stadium. Public seating will also be in the East Stadium, but to the left and right of the graduates. The stage will be set up at field level.
Detailed information about commencement plans can be found at http://commencement.unl.edu.
-- Tom Simons, University Communications
More details at: http://go.unl.edu/iks