Commencement security to return to past levels

BY PAIGE PEARCY
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 17, 2011

Though the class of 2011 will not hear President Barack Obama address them at next week's Spring Commencement, they can take solace in the fact that they will not have to deal with Secret Service imposed security measures.

The Commencement will have several marked changes from last year’s momentous ceremony. Alterations to this year’s ceremony — where Republican Gov. Rick Snyder will deliver the keynote speech — include changes to security and increased efforts promoting environmental sustainability.

According to the University’s Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown, security at the ceremony will be the same as two years prior and will not include the metal detectors that visitors had to walk through at last year’s ceremony, when Obama spoke to the graduating class.

“While there are the standard lists of prohibited items for the stadium because of the venue, it’ll be … how we typically have a commencement ceremony,” Brown said. “Last year was the anomaly, not the standard.”

Last year, the Secret Service dictated some of the security requirements, including the closure of the parking lots on the east side of Michigan Stadium, according to Brown. This year, however, all the main parking lots and walkways will be open to students and guests, Brown said.

Additionally, since areas surrounding the Big House are public property, Brown said protestors have the right to protest or demonstrate as long as they don’t cause a significant disturbance.

“People can be holding signs, or handing out literature, or whatever it is that they so choose that they want to do,” Brown said.

After hearing that Snyder will be giving the commencement speech this year, some students have said they will protest on commencement day to demonstrate their opposition to the governor’s proposed funding cuts to Michigan’s public universities and colleges. After the University announced last month that Snyder would be speaking, about 100 students took to the Diag to express their disagreement with the choice. Prior to the protest, a student-led petition in opposition to Snyder as the speaker gained more than 4,230 signatures.

Despite the possible protests, Jessica Barr, events assistant for University and Development Events, said no signs will be allowed in the stadium since they are never allowed for any Big House event.

"We do adhere to the security guidelines that are in place for Michigan Stadium during the football season," Barr said. "But it's not advanced security."

Despite the differences in security from last year, the main change on this year’s agenda is to make the ceremony more environmentally friendly. In an effort to be more “green,” the University cut 21 pages out of each commencement program, saving hundreds of thousands of pages overall.

In addition, the University has eliminated hot dogs from concession menus in favor of more local and sustainable options. About 35 percent of graduates are also expected to wear gowns made out of recycled plastic bottles.

Mike Shriberg, education director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and a lecturer in the Program in the Environment, enlisted three students from his class to help the University develop green initiatives at commencement by evaluating previous practices and developing changes.

“(The students are) not just looking at this year, they’re looking at long term, how (to) … make commencement a zero-waste event,” Shriberg said. “So they’ve got some bigger ideas in terms of increasing the amount of composting, increasing recycling and reducing materials that go in.”

While some students were involved in making the ceremony more environmentally sustainable, LSA senior Jillian Rothman will be partaking in a different way. Rothman was selected to be the student speaker at commencement, after her speech was reviewed by a group of faculty, students and alumni.

“I think I’ve had a very typical experience here,” Rothman said. “I love Michigan a lot, and I guess I have a lot to say about how much I love it, and I hope it represents what most people graduating feel.”

Rothman said she recognizes that some students are disappointed with the choice of Snyder as the commencement speaker. However, she said she encourages students to put aside their political beliefs and appreciate his accomplishments as a University alum.

“Whether or not you agree with what he’s doing with those degrees, the fact is he’s taken his degrees and used them to continue his fight for something he believes in,” Rothman said. “We should all be so lucky to be able to do that with our degrees.”