When Gary McClelland was asked to be the keynote speaker for Saturday’s University Honors Program, he agreed to do so under one condition: that he and his wife, Lou, walk down the hill during Kansas University’s commencement ceremonies.
It was a memory-making experience the two had missed 42 years ago.
“We finished finals, got married and left immediately for a research trip,” Lou said of the circumstances that prevented the couple from taking part in graduation ceremonies in 1969.
Both psychology majors, the two were headed to Micronesia to study the rapid cultivation and social change of the region as their classmates officially graduated.
“Really, we were too cool,” Gary said.
It’s an attitude that has changed since Gary became involved in the graduation traditions at Colorado University, where he is a psychology professor and Lou is the director of institutional analysis.
The two also have established an endowment for honors students working with faculty at KU. During the honors program, they were made honorary members of the class of 2011.
Sunday morning, they proudly wore the medals around their necks.
“Last night got kind of emotional with the alma mater and the Rock Chalk chant,” Gary said. “They have nothing like that at CU.”
Standing in front of Strong Hall in their caps and gowns, the couple recalled their time at KU.
Gary pointed to where his political-themed street theater group performed. They talked of the ice cream sandwich machine and early morning classes in Strong Hall.
“No one thought it was silly that we were coming back to walk down the hill,” Lou said. “It was ‘of course you did, if you didn’t get your diploma.’”
After graduation, the two had plans to visit a friend at Brandon Woods and travel to Topeka to see a cousin. In two weeks they are headed to Provence, France, where they will vacation with some of their 1969 KU classmates.