Commencement: a survival guide

With 20,000 family, friends and graduates filling the Rose Garden arena on Saturday, June 17 at 10 a.m. for spring commencement, some graduating students may feel a little concerned about whether they can even survive graduation.

The added pressure of being the focus of family and friends for an entire weekend may cause the average graduate to be even more overwhelmed. For that, here are 12 hints for graduating students to help them survive the entirety of commencement.

Hint 1: Over 2,000 students are expected to walk in this year’s spring commencement, which means people need to arrive early. Graduates should be at the Memorial Coliseum Exhibit Hall by 8:45 a.m. (doors open at 9 a.m. for friends and families).

A professional photography team will be on hand for cap and gown portrait photos in the Exhibit Hall beginning at 8:45 a.m. The same team will also take graduates’ pictures later, as they shake hands with the university president or various deans. A free proof will be sent to graduates’ homes after the ceremony and prints may be purchased from the photographer.

The lines begin moving from the Exhibit Hall to the Rose Garden arena shortly before 9:30 a.m.

Hint 2: Get up early enough to eat a good breakfast. The ceremony will last for hours and having a full stomach will prevent uncomfortable stomach conditions, and possible awkward stomach noises.

Hint 3: Make sure family and friends know that the Rose Garden arena and Exhibit Hall are non-smoking facilities. Alcohol is not permitted on the premises and helium balloons are not allowed in the Rose Garden.

Hint 4: Parking can be tricky in the crowded streets around the Rose Garden. Carpool, or take mass transit. On-campus parking is available and a PSU shuttle will run between PSU and the Rose Garden starting early that morning. The shuttles will also run after the ceremony.

The Exhibit Hall is located under the Rose Quarter Commons near Memorial Fountain. Strategic signs and volunteers will lead attendees to the assembly area, where graduates will complete a reader card and line up according to academic majors. A faculty marshal leads each line.

Hint 5: Use the restroom before then or forever hold your, well, you know. It’ll be two or three hours until the next chance.

“My undergrad ceremony from University of Detroit lasted hours,” said Jett. “That’s just the nature of the beast.”

Expect long lines in front of the women’s restroom. “Last year, a string of women gave up waiting and lined up at the men’s, which was empty,” said Peggy Savage, who walked in last spring’s ceremony.

Hint 6: Choose your place carefully. Graduates can pick their place in the procession line – the people they stand next to are the people they will sit next to.

“Sit with a friend,” suggested Savage. “It’s much more enjoyable, and yes, meaningful, if you march in with someone you’ve shared classes or experiences with during your time at PSU and sit next to them during the long ceremony. I had a friend on each side, and I will always cherish that memory.”

Students march into the Rose Garden arena to music played by musicians from the PSU School of Fine and Performing Arts.

“We walked to kettledrums, not pomp and circumstance,” said Bauer, whose undergraduate commencement was from Evergreen State College in Washington. “People dressed as butterflies and dragons as often as they wore caps and gowns.”

Hint 7: A small “fanny pack” under the commencement gown can hold small objects, such as a digital camera. A list of other essential items might include tissues, a pen, safety pins, Chapstick and a few hard candies.

Leave purses, bags and valuables at home, or with guests. When walking up to be recognized, anything graduates have brought must be left on their chair.

During the ceremony, the use of cell phones and chewing gum is discouraged.

Hint 8: Despite the discouraged use, brief and discreet cell phone use after processing in and reaching the seats may help graduates find their families among the dizzying thousands of participants. The same goes for a big colored dot placed atop the mortarboard hat before entering the arena.

“I graduated from the American University in D.C., in 1991,” said graduate student Meryl Lipman. “It was great, but I think my class was under 1,000 – obviously a very different experience than the Rose Garden will be for 2006 graduates of PSU.”

During the ceremony each graduate will receive a commencement program featuring names of graduates and program participants. As graduates are called, they will proceed to the front of the assembly and receive a blank diploma case.

Graduate students are also “hooded” during the ceremony, a symbolic gesture that conveys membership into the academic community of scholars. Students are hooded by their advisers, who also sit with them during the ceremony.

Hint 9: Although graduates may want to dress nicely for the ceremony, dress comfortably, too. Wear clothes that are not too hot or too tight, and shoes comfortable enough to walk in. Graduates will be sitting for a long time.

Commencement is a formal event, and graduates must wear graduation regalia: cap, gown and tassel. Regalia can be purchased at the PSU Bookstore (doctoral recipients rent theirs).

A time-honored PSU tradition is the optional wearing of the “Stole of Gratitude.” The green satin stole – emblazoned with the PSU seal – is worn during the commencement ceremony. After the ceremony, graduates can present it to a parent, teacher or mentor who has supported them through their student years.

Besides basic regalia, graduates may also wear various honor cords, stoles, medallions and other items signifying membership in scholarly honoraries and societies.

PSU awards Latin honors based on the graduate GPA. The highest honor, summa cum laude, is awarded for a GPA of 3.90-4.00. Magna cum laude is given for a GPA 3.80-3.89 and cum laude for 3.67-3.79.

Graduates eligible for Latin honors will receive honor cords at a June 15 event in the Smith Ballroom. Invitations will be mailed to qualifying students.

Hint 10: Agree ahead of time on a place to meet family and friends after the ceremony – the Rose Garden plaza will be swarming with thousands of people.

If graduates don’t take part in the spring ceremony, there’s a second chance in August. Summer commencement takes place on August 19 in the South Park Blocks. The event is a casual, “graduation regalia optional” ceremony.

Hint 11: However each chooses to “commence,” make the day memorable – filled with celebration, friends and festivity. It is a rite of passage, after all.

“I would make commencement as memorable as I could without causing myself shame 15 years later,” said Bauer. “Would I dress as a butterfly? Absolutely.”

An optional, professionally produced DVD of the spring commencement will feature footage of the entire ceremony, including commencement addresses, student speakers and a shot of each student as they receive their diploma case.

Hint 12: Do not let the large size of the ceremony make it seem too impersonal. It may be long, but everyone is a part of it.

“I’m not walking this year,” said PSU student Heidi Bauer, who will complete an MA in English this spring term. “Thousands of students? An arena? Three hours? Too impersonal for me.”

Other students who’ve made it through commencement said they would not have wanted to miss the experience.

“When my name was called, I was surprised by how elated I felt,” said PSU graduate student Nina Jett, reflecting on her undergraduate commencement from the University of Detroit in a venue much like the Rose Garden. “I didn’t go in thinking it was a big deal, but suddenly when they called my name and handed me the piece of paper, I felt a surge of pride. I couldn’t keep from smiling.”