Ending their KU years with plenty of cheers

Grads walk down the hill, take first steps to real world

With silly hats, balloons and showers of champagne, another flock of Jayhawks left the Kansas University nest Sunday.

About 4,000 KU students walked down Campanile Hill during a commencement ceremony that is traditionally non-traditional, with the procession symbolizing the journey from academia to the real world taking far longer than the speeches that followed.

“I feel like I’m all grown up,” said Marissa Stephenson, of Tonganoxie, who received degrees in journalism and international studies. “It was exactly the sentimental experience I wanted.”

The procession, which took more than an hour, and the ceremony drew 26,000 to Memorial Stadium on a warm, sunny day with temperatures in the mid-80s.

The walk down the hill has been a KU tradition since 1907.

“The walk is the ceremony,” Chancellor Robert Hemenway said. “No one walks alone.”

Dick Bond of Overland Park, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents and a fellow KU graduate, told outgoing students they would “write history.”

“I’m a proud Jayhawk alum,” he said, “and I know wherever you go you will share that same pride.”

On the hill, waiting for the march to start, students were doing their best to personalize the graduation event.

Kansas University medical students celebrate the conferral of their degrees during commencement at Memorial Stadium on Sunday.

For Kyle Hunt, of Wamego, and other aerospace engineering graduates, that meant carrying a 9-foot-long, 60-pound section of an airplane wing they designed their final semester.

“We wanted something to make us stand out,” Hunt said.

With many graduates wearing distinctive additions to their hats – a rubber chicken and a plastic frog were among the adornments – Chris Veit, of Overland Park, and Kate Eichten, of Topeka, used their feet to do the talking.

Veit was Big Jay during his time at KU, and Eichten was Baby Jay. Both wore the big yellow feet of their mascot costumes.

“I’ve been (to graduation) before as a bird, seeing everybody walk down,” said Veit, a mechanical engineering major. “I’m so excited to see it from the other side now.”

Eichten, a communication studies major, said the shoes were making her feet hot.

“But compared to the suit, this is nothing,” she said.

Rebecca Todd, of Lawrence, who was graduating with an interior design degree, was sharing the day with two special friends. Her sister, Anna Harvey, was graduating, and Todd was carrying her Yorkshire terrier, Clarence – complete with a mortar board cap – down the hill.

“He’s eaten some class projects over the years,” Todd said. But she said she didn’t mind.

“He’s not just a dog,” Harvey said. “He’s her child.”

Fermin Santos, of Shawnee, who was graduating with a medical degree, had his mind on the future.

On one side, a sign he carried said, “The doctor is in the house.”

The other side: “Too bad all my money’s going to paying off $100,000+ in loans.”

He said he’ll be worried about his debt – after the parties are over.

“We’re all trying to figure that out right now,” he said. “Today, it’s play now, pay later.”