LINCOLN — After one last appearance at home, Husker graduations are hitting the road.
Today's commencement ceremony marks an end to the 36-year era in which the Devaney Center served as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's graduation central.
Memorial Stadium, outdoors, has been tapped as the site for May's commencement because the Devaney Center arena will be closed for renovations. UNL officials don't know when, if ever, graduation has been held there.
In the future, the majority of UNL students are likely to graduate at Pinnacle Bank Arena, a 16,000-seat, $179 million facility set to open next September.
Students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha have already made the transition to a new graduation site. After holding commencement at Omaha's Civic Auditorium for more than two decades, UNO officials made the call last year to bring graduation back to campus, said B.J. Reed, senior vice chancellor of academic affairs.
About 1,100 Mavericks are to graduate in two ceremonies, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. today at UNO's Sapp Fieldhouse.
Though the auditorium is aging and commencement eventually will move to an on-campus arena now under development, Reed said the main purpose of the move was to build a deeper sense of connection with UNO students and families.
“We really needed to bring it back to campus,” he said.
Last year's graduates showed their families around campus and took pictures in front of the campus campanile. They lingered at a campus reception in the student center.
“People just really had a good time,” he said. “The goal was to connect them to campus and (give) them a culminating experience for their schooling.”
UNL and UNO are among several colleges staging mid-year graduation ceremonies this weekend.
About 1,700 Iowa State University students will graduate in a ceremony at 1:30 this afternoon at Hilton Coliseum, where graduation has been held since the building was opened in 1971.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Nebraska Medical Center graduated students on Friday, with Kearney celebrating 316 undergraduates and 102 graduates and UNMC recognizing 217 students. Wayne State College also graduated about 210 students.
About 870 of 1,110 UNL students who finished degrees this year are to participate in today's ceremony at Devaney, which features New York Times political correspondent Jeff Zeleny, a Nebraska native and alumnus.
Those students close a tradition that began in May 1976, when then-President Gerald Ford served as speaker for the first commencement at the new Devaney Center. Since then, most UNL graduates have walked across a stage at the Devaney Center to collect their degrees.
Construction workers in March will begin transforming Devaney's 13,500-seat basketball arena into a 10,000-seat volleyball venue. The construction will prevent commencement from being held there in May and in August.
August's ceremonies will be held in Lincoln's Pershing Center, a 4,500-seat arena. After that, December and August ceremonies likely will return to the Devaney, though the remodeled arena will no longer be large enough to accommodate the May event, said Jennifer Verhein, UNL's coordinator for graduation services.
Memorial Stadium was chosen as May's commencement site in part because it's the only venue in Lincoln large enough to accommodate a crowd of about 3,000 graduates and 11,000 friends and family members, Verhein said.
UNO had to break up its ceremonies by college to accommodate the crowds. During winter graduation, half the colleges participate in a morning ceremony and the other half participate in an afternoon ceremony.
May commencement ceremonies are held by individual colleges at several outdoor sites across campus. Reed said the approach allows colleges to develop more personal ceremonies for their graduates.
Verhein said UNL's priority is maintaining a single ceremony for undergraduates, without having to limit attendance.
Butch Hug, associate athletic director for facilities, said a Memorial Stadium graduation will make for a memorable bookend to the UNL experience — which, for many freshmen, started in the stadium with a tunnel walk and a run across the field during a Big Red Welcome event.
“We call that the running of the bulls,” he said. “This group will be walking out with a sheepskin.”
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