Bicentennial spring commencement plans highlight grads, University history

Sunday, March 26, 2017 - 3:24pm

In celebration of the University of Michigan's bicentennial, the 2017 graduating class will be sent off in style with a graduation ceremony at Michigan Stadium featuring University figures from the past and present, musical performances and alumni award presentations. 

The ceremony will be on April 29 and will break a long-standing tradition of seating the graduates on the stands and instead, seat them on the field, so more tickets can be given to families and friends of the graduates.

In a University press release, University President Mark Schlissel said the event will contribute to the year-long bicentennial festivities and will highlight the extensive history of graduates from the University.

“Our bicentennial commencement gives our community the opportunity to honor the graduates of the Class of 2017, along with the amazing 200-year-old legacy of excellence and impact that they are joining,” Schlissel said. 

The opening bicentennial fanfare, written by Music, Theatre & Dance Prof. Roshanne Etezady, will be followed by Vice Admiral Walter E. Carter Jr., superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, leading an ROTC commissioning ceremony. 

The University’s history consists of a number of famous speeches and moments that occurred before images could be captured on high-quality film. Music, Theatre & Dance Prof. Malcolm Tulip said his multimedia presentation during commencement will feature current University faculty reading the words of past speeches. He said the project will highlight the current graduates and the 200 years of academia before them. 

“For years now, we have become used to seeing great speeches and events on video,” Tulip said in the press release. “In the early days of the university this documentation did not exist or was lost. This project assembles a series of excerpts from significant speeches from the university’s past. In seven minutes, graduating students and their families will gain a sense of their place in the university and nation’s history.”

Though there is a large emphasis on the bicentennial and the University’s past, Interim Provost Paul Courant said in the release the ceremony will not lose sight of its main focus: the current graduates.

“Graduation, as always, is principally about the academic achievements of the students who are graduating,” Courant said. “We are pleased and proud to honor them and their achievements.”

In lieu of the typical honorary degrees presentation at commencement, the University will present ten Bicentennial Alumni Awards. Schlissel said the awards showcase the positive impact past graduates have had in their fields and beyond.

“The alumni awards give us a very special opportunity to recognize individuals from our more recent past who can inspire our community through their outstanding ongoing work,” Schlissel said.

Two of the Bicentennial Alumni Award recipients, Music, Theatre & Dance graduates Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, were recently awarded “Best Original Song” Oscars for their work on the song “City of Stars,” featured in the movie “La La Land.” The songwriting duo will also stage a musical performance for the commencement ceremony, featuring Music, Theatre & Dance students.