Archive for Sunday, May 23, 1999


May 23, 1999


While most graduates will sit through commencement with their heads held high, a few don't want to have anything to do with the pomp.

This is the traditional notion of Kansas University graduation:

Thousands of black-robed graduates streaming down Campanile Hill, boisterously filing into Memorial Stadium under the watchful eyes of thousands of proud family members and friends.

But the pomp and pageantry of commencement isn't embraced by all graduates.

"Sitting there in a black robe for hours and hours isn't my idea of fun," said Sarah Spence, who is receiving a bachelor's degree in Slavic languages today.

But Spence will be among the sea of graduates who will walk through the Campanile and down the Hill to take a seat in the stadium for the 127th commencement.

Her mother wants her to do it.

"I'm going to walk down the Hill. I was going to make a beeline for the car," she said. But " "My mom's making me sit through the whole thing."

Mom's reasoning, Spence said, was that this would be her one and only chance to participate in an event like KU's commencement. Spence will be obedient, though not altogether happy about it.

Others will simply avoid the campus traffic jam. And they always have.

Opting out

"Not everyone goes to graduation, here or anywhere else," said Elaine Sharp, the university marshal who is master of ceremonies for graduation. "There's a history, year after year, of there not being universal attendance."

Like Spence, some KU graduates take their seats in the sun to be honored for years of work. Others take the walk down the Hill, parade into the stadium then head right back out.

Others opt out of graduation altogether.

Of the 5,900 or so students eligible to participate in commencement, only 4,000 are expected to attend the ceremony. Many -- about 2,000 of the graduates -- finished course work last summer or fall and may or may not attend.

KU has been conducting commencement in Memorial Stadium since 1924. The graduate procession, however, has been part of commencement since 1907, when graduates marched from Fraser Hall to Robinson Gymnasium for the ceremony.

Mabel Rice, an assistant marshal who will help direct students, said that for her money, graduation isn't to be missed.

"It's a way of honoring the achievement itself," Rice said.

Brian Cathey doesn't plan to miss it.

"I worked hard enough and spent enough money on my education here; I want one day to celebrate. What better way to do that than a walk down the Hill?" asked Cathey, who will graduate with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering.

For the family

It's not just for him, either: Twenty-one of his family members are gathering to watch. And he is looking forward to the march.

"Not too many places have that kind of tradition," he said. "It's really something really neat."

Some of Cathey's friends don't share his enthusiasm for the day or the nod to tradition; they're skipping the ceremony altogether.

"They just want to get out of here," he said. "Graduation is just postponing that."

Still others, like Mark Banker, attend just for themselves.

"It's been a long time coming," said Banker, an architecture student. "It's the culmination of five years."

Jed Baughman, who is receiving a bachelor's degree in architectural studies, said it would be rude to just walk down the Hill and keep going.

"I think it would be improper etiquette to walk out," he said. "It's for me. It will feel good. ... You've got to kind of congratulate yourself a bit."

French and European studies student Andrew Mitchell doesn't agree. He's planning to leave after the walk down the Hill, because "that's the part of the tradition that's really unique."

Faculty leave, too

Besides, Mitchell would rather spend time with his friends and family than sit through the ceremony.

"I've been to graduation ceremonies before," he said.

He's not alone. George McCleary Jr., an associate marshal and member of the commencement logistic committee, said students and even some faculty will march down the Hill and just keep on walking. In the few years the outdoor graduation has been rained out, students have asked to have the procession and then head indoors.

There are other reasons to skip the ceremony, too. Laura Graber and Steven Kelly, graduate students, said they didn't plan to go to the big party their second time around.

"I'm just going to the hooding ceremony," Graber said. She will be receiving her master's degree in social work and has family members coming to town.

"I didn't think they needed to sit through four hours of graduation ceremony," she said.

Kelly, who is getting his master's degree in business administration, is participating in a ceremony put on by the business school only. He said he would go to the large ceremony if he hadn't done it once before.

"I went through it," he said. "Too much hassle. ... If I hadn't done it, I'd probably go though it."

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is

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