Archive for Monday, May 24, 2004

Old, new traditions converge

Thousands celebrate annual rite of passage

May 24, 2004


Matthew Kapfer wasn't about to walk down Campanile Hill alone.

He wanted to teach his children the importance of receiving a university degree -- something that, until Sunday, had never been done in his family.

So Kapfer carried his 5-month-old daughter, with his sons -- ages 2 and 5 -- at his side, as he prepared to receive a bachelor's degree in engineering from Kansas University.

"They all deserve it. They kept me going," said Kapfer, a Lawrence native. "I want them to really know college graduation is a part of life. We want to start a tradition here."

Their new family tradition wove into a well-established tradition Sunday afternoon, as KU held its 132nd annual commencement exercises. About 4,000 graduates participated in the walk down Campanile Hill to Memorial Stadium, part of commencement since 1924. In all, the Class of 2004 includes about 6,400 members, including students who finished work last summer and fall and this spring.

About 30,000 people attended the event, many of them lining the sidewalk to catch a glimpse of a friend or family member during the 70-minute procession.

Lauren Abernathy, a business major from Clinton, Mo., was among those trying to stand out in the crowd. A roommate's grandmother bought tiaras and boas for her and her four roommates.

"She said we should be princesses when we graduate," Abernathy said.

Once inside Memorial Stadium, Chancellor Robert Hemenway said he always "agonized" over writing the annual commencement address, his ninth.

A couple minutes into his speech, students started doing the wave.

"This is why chancellors really don't like this speech," he said.

As the wave continued, he added: "OK, let's cool it. All right?"

The volleying of beach balls continued, however. Champagne corks popped off bottles and sailed into the crowd.

The hijinks served to help prove one of the perennial points of Hemenway's address: "The walk is the ceremony. The speech is secondary, tertiary, to the walk itself."

Hemenway noted that the graduating class had dealt with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks during their sophomore year, the war in Afghanistan their junior year and the war in Iraq their senior year.

"The challenge of these days is to find a way to keep our sensibilities from being blunted, our compassion from being diminished and our capacity for love intact," he said.

"I hope that your KU education has taught you to avoid the potential for arrogance in our super power, and to hold fast to the hope that the world can become a better, more peaceful place, no matter how remote that seems at the present."

Jennifer Warren of Olathe, who graduated with a math degree, was among those who were uncertain of their futures after graduation.

"I'm going to Europe for two weeks, and when I get home I'll figure it out," she said. "This is exciting, but I'm kind of nervous."

-- Staff writer Jennifer Byrd contributed information to this report.

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