Because of ongoing construction at Michigan Stadium, April’s University-wide commencement ceremony will take place at Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium, University of Michigan officials said yesterday afternoon.
Because construction crews will still be working on the Big House’s electrical and plumbing systems on April 26, the date of the commencement, many of the stadium’s facilities, like public restrooms, won’t be usable.
The construction is part of a multi-year project started last fall that will add two structures containing premium seating along the sides of the stadium. The construction will also widen seats, renovate bathrooms and concessions and add more wheelchair-accessible seating to the bowl.
University students mobilized last night to fight the change.
Someone launched a blog called Michigan Graduation 08 – At The Big House and announced plans to hold a mass meeting to discuss “the drive to bring back our graduation ceremony.”
As of 1 a.m. today, a Facebook group called “Michigan’s Graduation is meant to be in the BIG HOUSE,” boasted almost 800 members. It had been created just hours earlier.
University officials said they didn’t realize the construction would prevent them from holding the ceremony at the Big House until the middle of last month.
Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, said the University chose not to move this year’s commencement to Crisler Arena because it would reduce the number of tickets available to graduates from eight to two or three per graduate.
“It just wouldn’t work because there are lots of families where there are two sets of parents, and grandmas and grandpas and all that,” Harper said.
Harper did say there was a chance the University could hold the ceremony at Crisler if graduation seniors demanded such a move in overwhelming numbers.
“It would have to be, from the senior class, the majority,” she said. “Not two or three ‘I don’t care if I only get one or two guests,’ but if there was a cry from the folks that are really affected – these current seniors – and it was 80 or 90 percent of them, that would be worth a pause. And I think that we’d just be shocked it that were the case.”
Rynearson Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 30,200 for football games, sits about 6.5 miles east of Michigan Stadium in Ypsilanti.
Ceremonies for the University’s individual schools and colleges will still take place on campus, Harper said.
Over 65,000 people attended the university-wide spring commencement ceremony in 2007. But the star power of former President Bill Clinton drew about 19,000 more people than usual to that event.
University officials said the University would provide commencement attendees with bus shuttles that will transport them to and from campus for the ceremony.
Although University officials didn’t cite specific ideas, they said they would like students – especially seniors – to submit ideas and suggestions for how to “create a maize-and-blue feel” inside the stadium.
Some felt the $226 million stadium renovations were unwise in the first place.
In April, the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans’ of America filed a suit against the University, challenging whether Michigan Stadium meets federal accessibility standards – a suit that the U.S. Department of Justice would later join.
Many students, particularly graduating seniors, said they were disappointed with the news.
Kinesiology senior Allison Schneider said she was frustrated with the decision because so many of her most memorable experiences at the University took place at the Big House.
“The Big House is symbolic of all the Saturdays and football games and the camaraderie of students and alumni,” Schneider said.
LSA senior John Friedman criticized the University for continuing construction to the stadium, which ultimately forced it to move the ceremony off-campus.
“This is another unfortunate effect of an already bad decision,” Friedman said.
LSA senior Cassandra Papenfuse said she would have liked to have graduated on campus, considering how much she’s invested in the University.
“I’ve spent so much money and worked so hard to get a degree here, and I have to graduate at a building at Eastern,” Papenfuse said.