With signs of construction everywhere, KU holds commencement ceremony at football stadium

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Because of current construction work at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, only the east side of stadium stands were available for audience members, seen at upper right. Students were seated on provided flooring on the stadium field.

Under brilliant sunshine — and a bright yellow construction crane — the University of Kansas conferred degrees to more than 6,400 students on Sunday.

The ceremony marked the 100th anniversary of the KU tradition of holding a commencement ceremony that includes a grand procession of graduates marching down The Hill and into the football stadium. (The procession’s traditional starting point, the Campanile, was added after World War II.) But this year’s ceremony was unlike any other. KU is in the midst of a $400 million-plus renovation of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Not far from the current construction site on the west side of Memorial Stadium, University of Kansas graduates take photographs of each other before taking seats on the stadium field for the 2024 University of Kansas Commencement on Sunday, May 12, 2024, at KU’s David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

The west half and northern end of the stadium have been demolished, thus the boom of the construction crane that towered above the on-field seating area for graduates and spectators. Piles of rebar, conduit and other construction materials were visible on other parts of the field.

There were few complaints, though. Chancellor Douglas Girod noted that many of the students in KU’s 2024 class had their high school graduation ceremonies cancelled due to the pandemic. That strengthened his resolve to have a traditional graduation ceremony on campus, even if it meant putting “a graduation into the middle of the largest construction site we’ve ever had.”

“It was really important to make sure that we could pull this off,” Girod told graduates during his remarks.

Despite campus unrest related to the Gaza-Israeli conflict at other universities across the country, there no major disruptions to KU’s commencement. The most visible signs of the conflict were dozens of chalk drawn messages on the sidewalks that graduates used to walk down The Hill. Many of the messages were advocating for a free Palestine, but some also said KU and its leaders were complicit in genocide because the university has failed to divest from all entities with ties to Israel.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Three University of Kansas graduates display Pro-Palestinian flyers during their confirmation of degrees at the 2024 University of Kansas Commencement on Sunday, May 12, 2024, at KU’s David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

But, by far, the largest messages of the day centered on the traditional well-wishes for graduates, and exhortations that they seize the moment and make the most of their educations.

“You leave here not just as experts in your field but as perpetual seekers of knowledge,” Executive Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences told graduates during the ceremony.

Girod also told graduates that they were beginning a new chapter of life with many opportunities — he touted a strong job market for college graduates — and much work to do.

“We also want you to improve the world around you, and to be honest, we have no shortage of problems to take on,” Girod said. “Whether it is war, disease, poverty, public safety, a need for new sources of energy, or frankly, just to preserve our democracy, we face plenty of challenges and we need the talents of graduates here today to go out there and address those.”

KU, as is its tradition, did not have an invited graduation speaker at Sunday’s ceremony. The walk through The Campanile and down The Hill, which took a little more than an hour for all the graduates to complete, is a major part of the ceremony. The ceremony honored all graduates of the university, including those who took classes on the Lawrence campus, the medical campuses in Kansas City, Kan. and Wichita and the Edwards Campus in Johnson County, among other locations.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Displaying their decorated caps are University of Kansas graduates Erika Sisler, Runnells, Iowa; Brynn Graham, Parker, Colorado; and Te’a Jackson, Bellevue, Nebraska. The trio of friends participated in the Commencement on Sunday, May 12, 2024, at KU’s David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

See more photos from the 2024 commencement ceremony here.


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