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Employees make commencement change a positive experience

Marnee Royer of Kearney and Chris Espinoza of Bellevue make faces for a photo during the May 4 commencement ceremony in the Hawks Center. (Craig Chandler/University Communications)
Marnee Royer of Kearney and Chris Espinoza of Bellevue make faces for a photo during the May 4 commencement ceremony in the Hawks Center. (Craig Chandler/University Communications)

Faculty, staff and administrators helped turn disappointment into excitement after weather shifted UNL's May 4 undergraduate commencement from a signature event within Memorial Stadium to a more personal experience inside the Hawks Championship Indoor Center.

Chancellor Harvey Perlman's decision to move the graduation event indoors was announced at 6:30 a.m. One hour later, students started to report to the Hawks Center to pick up diplomas.

"We were more than ready to go by then," said Jennifer Verhein, an assistant director in the Office of the University Registrar who oversees distribution of diplomas. "I had no expectations going into the event. We were just focused on implementing the plan and making this the best experience possible for graduates and their families."

Students were directed to report to the Hawks Center at specific times by college throughout the morning. The graduates, families and friends were greeted at the door by university employees and directed to the proper area to pick up their diplomas.

As graduate entourages waited in line, they met face-to-face with faculty and administrators. Photos were taken along the way — including a final shot of a dean handing the diploma to the graduate in front of a college-specific banner. Family and friends were welcomed into the photos with the dean.

Chancellor Perlman even got in on the fun, posing for photos and talking with those in attendance.

"It was a very celebratory experience," said Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of education and human sciences. "You could really see the joy in everyone's face. Normally we don't get to see that because family members are way up in the seats at commencement. On Saturday, they were two feet away.

"The ceremony was a nice reminder that every graduate comes with family and friends that do a lot to support them through college."

When the last undergraduate walked out of the Hawks Center around 1:30 p.m., roughly 50 of the 1,713 diplomas that would have been handed out on a wet, cold windswept stage in Memorial Stadium remained.

Verhein credited UNL administrators, faculty and staff who participated for turning the experience into a positive one for the Class of 2013.

"There were an awful lot of super heroes without capes at this event," Verhein said. "Overall, there was a feeling of excitement about graduating and receiving diplomas. We had a strong team that worked together to make that happen."

Verhein issued special kudos to her staff in the Office of the Registrar, the 32 university marshals, UNL's vice chancellors, Corrie Svehla's team in Information Services, Meg Lauerman's University Communications staff and Bob Geier's moving crew.

"It went remarkably well, given the circumstances," Verhein said. "Every single person stepped up and gave their best — but that's just one of the wonderful things we come to expect living here in Nebraska."

All UNL graduates who took part in May 3-4 commencement activities are eligible to receive one free photograph from GradImages, the official event photographer.

Graduates can obtain a free photograph (5 inches by 7 inches, with matte finish) through the GradImages website, http://www.gradimages.com, using the coupon code "GIFT5713."

For more information about the offer, call 800-261-2576 or send email to emurphy@eventphotographygroup.com.

Additional photos of UNL commencement exercises are available at http://go.unl.edu/sb5.