At this point in their lives, many students at Ohio State have already hit several milestones: receiving their driver’s licenses, finishing high school and celebrating their 21st birthdays. On Sunday, about 6,500 students will reach another milestone: receiving their college degrees.
Spring Commencement is one of the biggest annual undertakings and largest-scale events on campus. Numerous committees, campus organizations and other university entities are involved in months of planning every year to make the event run smoothly.
“Commencement is a day of celebration for our graduates and their families, a day to commemorate the hard work, perseverance and success of those who have achieved their educational dreams,” said President E. Gordon Gee in a statement provided by Amy Murray, assistant director of media relations.
Such a large academic celebration doesn’t come without cost. The central university administration provides the commencement operating budget which funds the event, Murray said. Expenses incurred by university entities such as Facilities Operations and Development, Transportation and Parking, University Police and University Communications must be covered in the budget.
Murray said between 2006 and 2010, the average cost of Spring Commencement alone was more than $328,000. The average cost of Autumn, Winter and Summer Commencements over that same span was more than $90,000, $88,000 and $76,000, respectively. Overall, the university spends about $600,000 on commencements each year. This year’s commencement budget is not yet available.
“We are proud to provide a fitting and memorable event to mark the occasion,” Gee said.
OSU students receive their diplomas at a single ceremony, a practice rarely attempted at a university of its size, Murray said. For a student to receive his diploma, his grades must be finalized through the University Registrar’s office.
Brad Myers, the university registrar, said a diploma is typically withheld for two main reasons: a hold on the student’s account, such as an outstanding financial obligation, or an issue related to academic eligibility.
“The percent is very small,” Myers said. “I’m gonna say 2 to 3 percent of a graduation would (be) people for whom we are withholding diplomas.”
Kolbie Saddler, a 2010 graduate with a degree in social work, said although it was nice to get her diploma during the ceremony, she didn’t think commencement was a good ending to her OSU experience.
“It was really hot and long,” Saddler said. “At the college of social work, we do an evening of recognition. That was much better than commencement.”
Matthew Couch, an associate director at the Ohio Union, has helped to make Spring Commencement more personal to students for the last four years through Commencement Week, a week-long series of events that lead up to Spring Commencement.
“We’ve done a great job at Ohio State at making great first impressions but haven’t put a lot of effort into saying ‘goodbye’ as well as we say ‘hello,'” Couch said. “So the idea started with one main event, the Commencement Eve Candlelight ceremony.
The possibility of inclement weather is just one of the challenges involved in planning and executing such a large event.
“It will either be sweltering hot and humid or pouring,” said Hans Voss, a fourth-year in political science. “Regardless, it will be a meaningful experience.”
OSU Police Chief Paul Denton said weather is the biggest concern.
“You always consider severe weather — what you want people to do, where you want people to go,” Denton said. “You basically have two options: Take shelter in the stadium — there’s plenty of room in the concourses — or evacuation.”
Fortunately, weather has only been an issue once in recent memory. University Historian Tamar Chute said the 1997 Spring Commencement was canceled because of rain.
“Diplomas are then taken to other sites on campus such as St. John Arena or the French Field House, and graduates go there to pick up their diploma,” said Lynda Farrell, associate director of the Office of Commencement and Special Events. “Unfortunately, its anticlimactic.”
On Sunday, weather.com calls for isolated thunderstorms with a high of 84 degrees and a low of 70 degrees.
In fair or severe weather, all campus departments and organizations must perform their responsibility to ensure the process runs smoothly.
The Office of Commencement and Special Events
The four yearly commencements are planned and coordinated through the Office of Commencement and Special Events. Farrell and Carol Ries combine to plan the biggest event: Spring Commencement.
“Coordinating can be challenging at times,” Farrell said. “But it’s also a blessing because we can’t do all that without the help of so many other people and other offices.”
The event planning committee for Spring Commencement is composed of about 25 people, including representatives from Public Safety, Transportation and Parking, Facilities Operation and Development and Student Life, Farrell said.
The planning is year-round on some levels, such as selecting a speaker, she said.
“There is a commencement speaker committee,” Farrell said. “The committee meets several times a year and makes recommendations for speakers for each quarter. Dr. Gee weighs in as well.”
The selection of this year’s speaker, Speaker of the House John Boehner, has been met with a mixed response among students.
Holly Willer, a fourth-year in communication, said she is not excited to hear Boehner speak.
“I think we should have had a say in who came to speak to us,” Willer said.
During an April 12 interview with The Lantern, Gee said Boehner is the first Speaker of the House from Ohio since the late 1920s and said he didn’t think the speech would be political.
“If we had a litmus test for everyone we asked, we wouldn’t invite anyone,” Gee said. “If they’re doing what they should be doing, then they’re making decisions that some people are not going to like.”
Farrell said the school does not have a budget for paying commencement speakers.
“We really rely on a speaker wanting to come here and speak to our graduates,” Farrell said.
Denton said Spring Commencement is the second-largest event the police help manage.
“We have a lot of experience in managing, planning for and coordinating events,” Denton said. “The largest is football. (Spring Commencement) is a close second.”
Denton said extra personnel are brought in for the event, including fire personnel, medics, and transportation and parking officials.
“We take an all-hazards approach to event management and security,” Denton said. “We plan for weather incidents, other threats based on the keynote speaker, heat and fire safety as well as general crowd management.”
Denton could not recall any specific incidents in the past but said his biggest concern is weather, followed by disruptive individuals and alcohol abuse.
According to documents Chute provided, College of Dentistry students were almost banned in 1987 for “public display of immaturity and drunkenness.”
Denton said the goal is to make the day enjoyable for graduates and their families, but visitors must take an active role in their own safety.
“It’s generally a very fun event for us to be involved with,” Denton said. “It is a celebratory event.”
Transportation & Parking Services
Beth Kelley-Snoke, director of Transportation & Parking, said since commencement is now on Sundays, all staff members brought in to work that day are assigned to the event. Four Traffic Operations Supervisors, six Parking Maintenance personnel, 14 traffic control officers, 20 special event assistants, and eight CABS shuttle staff members will be on hand.
Planning generally begins in A
pril, Kelley-Snoke said. In 2000 and 2001, commencement was held on the Oval because of stadium renovations, presenting more preparation challenges.
“It was different,” Kelley-Snoke said. “We tried to keep parking available in the garages around campus. … but it went really well.”
Kelley-Snoke said attendees can park anywhere.
“We pretty much open up the whole campus,” she said. “Guests can park anywhere. Garages are open and free; we don’t cite anyone that day.”
Kelley-Snoke reiterated the weather concern.
“If there is a hint of rain, we meet at 7 or 8 (a.m.) at the Operations office in the stadium,” Kelley-Snoke said. “We discuss it, call the Wilmington weather office and make a judgment based on what they say.”
The biggest challenge, Kelley-Snoke said, is to get visitors directed, parked and to the stadium.
“A lot of people only graduate once,” Kelley-Snoke said. “They may be the first in their family to graduate. It is a different group of people every time.”
Facilities Operation and Development
The set-up, teardown and diploma delivery responsibilities fall on Facilities Operation and Development personnel. Eric Esswein, Operations Planner for FOD, said FOD handles a lot of the stadium set-up.
“FOD will set up signage for the grads (roped off areas for students to sit) and put up a tent in the parking lot because the number of people is so large,” Esswein said.
Once signage areas are set up, Student Life volunteers help the graduates find their correct spot.
Scott Boden, associate director of Student Life, says his staff is there to aid the graduates.
“We help students find their place in line in an appropriate order to get their diploma from the dean of their college,” Boden said.
Esswein also said FOD hauls the materials over to Ohio Stadium, sets up the diploma tables and puts tablecloths on those tables, alternating scarlet and gray colors. Diplomas are also picked up and put in the appropriate order.
Esswein said about 10 workers complete the set-up over the course of a week.
“We also tear it down and put it away, except usually I have about 35 to 40 people to do that,” Esswein said.
Commencement starts at noon, and Esswein estimates it will be over between 2:30 and 3 p.m.
“As soon as it’s over, we have crews come in, and we assign people what they need to do,” Esswein said. “We borrow about eight trucks from Stores and Receiving to tear down. Normally, we are done probably between 5 and 6 (p.m.).”
Farrell said the challenges of planning and executing Spring Commencement are worth it for the graduates and their families.
“Our partnerships with all those other areas on campus is what makes it able to happen,” Farrell said. “And I can’t stress that enough.”