University officials are busy preparing for President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip from the White House to the Big House, now saying the number of people attending this year’s commencement ceremony could be twice the number of those who attended last year.
In a meeting with the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs yesterday, President Mary Sue Coleman and Provost Teresa Sullivan discussed security and logistics for President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to deliver the 2010 Spring Commencement address.
Coleman said University officials are hoping more than 80,000 people will attend graduation at the Big House. Last year, approximately 40,000 people gathered for the commencement ceremony.
Coleman said that expectation is based on the size of the crowd last year when Obama delivered the commencement at Arizona State University. The University’s Sun Devil Stadium, which holds 80,000 people, was filled to capacity for his speech.
But Coleman said University officials are thinking there’s a possibility that there could be more people in the Big House than there were at Sun Devil Stadium.
“We should be able to get at least 100 (thousand people),” Coleman said.
Coleman added that planning for security measures is on track thus far. But she added that officials are still waiting on some information regarding security because the Secret Service has to approve the University’s plans for security.
“So far, so good,” Coleman said. “There haven’t been show stoppers, things that they’ve said ‘absolutely not.’”
Coleman said that a limiting factor in the process could be the security equipment that each person will have to go through in order to get into the stadium. According to data from the Secret Service, it took about five hours to get everyone into their seats last year at ASU, Coleman said.
She added that ASU reported that they had everyone seated 40 minutes before the start of the ceremony.
“We’re trying to be very realistic with people,” Coleman said. “You have to get there early, you have to be in your seat.”
At yesterday’s meeting, Sullivan discussed Obama’s upcoming visit to the University as well, telling SACUA members that the rules regarding bags on Football Saturdays will be in effect and that she hopes it will cut down the time it takes to enter the Big House. Currently visitors are prohibited from bringing bags into the stadium unless they are for medical needs.
Sullivan also addressed the issue of seating and placement in the stadium.
“Another issue is that the Secret Service, for very good reason, is making a careful study of the Big House, trying to figure out if there are sections that should be closed,” Sullivan said.
Coleman said that it will be very important for the community to cooperate with University guidelines for the ceremony. Two years ago when commencement was held on the Diag due to renovations at the Big House, it went of without a hitch because attendees listened to the instructions of University officials, Coleman said.
University officials are advising those attending this year’s commencement ceremony to arrive to the stadium early because of the additional security. To help with this process, University officials announced last month that they would start commencement at 11 a.m. — an hour later than they originally planned — to make sure attendees had enough time to get through security.
And once inside the Big House, Coleman told SACUA members that there will be activities for people to take part in while they are waiting for graduation to begin.
“(We) hope the time will go fast and of course we hope it doesn’t rain,” she added.
Coleman said there will also be free water available.
Before the ceremony, the graduates will assemble on Elbel Field, where there will be “goodies” and low-cost breakfast items, Coleman said, adding that the food will not be sold to make a profit but only to cover costs.
“We want to make this a wonderful, fun experience for everybody,” she said.
In addition to discussing the logistics for commencement, Coleman also discussed the process of getting Obama to speak at graduation. Coleman told SACUA members that during a trip to California last week she answered questions about how the University got Obama to come to the Big House.
“Well we had the secret weapon and that’s all these people in the White House who are Michigan alums,” Coleman said.
“Now I’m just worried about next year,” Coleman added, joking with SACUA members who suggested the Pope or Queen Elizabeth as potential speakers for next year.
One challenge that could emerge at this year’s commencement is the limited availability of parking, Coleman said, adding that certain security barriers will be in place around the stadium that may not allow for all the usual game-day parking areas to be available.
However, Coleman said there will be shuttles available for attendees to get to the stadium from remote parking areas.
“They have to get approval for everything and I don’t know that they’ve gotten approval yet,” she said.
For those elderly family members or those who don’t want to brave the crowds, Sullivan said that some deans are planning to broadcast the speech live on TVs in certain areas. The ceremony will also be on the Big Ten Network, on a University webcast and on the University’s local television station, Sullivan said.