In less than two weeks, the University will begin the considerable undertaking of transforming the Diag into a commencement venue for the first time.

Kelly Fraser

Preparations for the ceremony, including constructing the stage and installing seating for graduates and audience members, are slated to begin April 14, about two weeks before the program on April 26.

Because the construction schedule will overlap with classes and exams, organizers anticipate that noise levels may disrupt final exam preparations for many students.

In a presentation during the Facilities Users Network meeting last Thursday, organizers said they expect the noise to be minimal during the early stages, while classes are in session. But on the weekend of April 19 and 20 and during the exam days of April 21-24, they expect that noise from construction will be loud enough to be a disruption.

The noise from forklifts, back-up horns and the “constant clatter” from assembly of the main and band stages in front of Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library and Haven Hall are expected to reach high levels.

On a scale of one to 10, with one being students and foot traffic and 10 being front row at a rock concert, organizers say that the level will be a five on most exam days.

University officials announced two months ago that graduation would be held on the Diag after students voiced their displeasure with earlier plans to hold the ceremony at Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium. The usual site for spring commencement, Michigan Stadium, is unavailable because of ongoing construction at the Big House.

Set-up on the Diag will be completed in several stages beginning April 14 with bleacher setup along the east side of Mason Hall. A lane of North University Avenue will also be closed for the first stages of construction.

Over the next several days, temporary snow fences will be set up in the Diag to block off traffic from the seating areas. Once the fences are up, workers will install a floor to keep the seating areas level, mark off aisles and set up chairs. Workers will also build a platform for seating in between the Natural Science Building and the Chemistry Building.

In total, about 30,000 chairs and 20 sets of bleachers will be brought in to accommodate graduates and their families.

These seats will fill in the area spanning east to west from the Dana Building to Mason Hall and north to south from North University Avenue to the Graduate Library. Graduates will be seated closest to the main stage and bleachers will fill in the area behind the seats, according to site plans.

One of the major tasks for organizers will be removing kiosks and poles used to hang banners and trimming trees on the Diag so that guests will have a clear line of sight to the main stage.

Video screens and audio towers will also be set-up throughout the Diag between the main stage to North University Avenue in case audience members still do not have a clear view of the stage.

Organizers also had to deal with the lack of parking available near the Diag, compared to Michigan Stadium. Eighteen shuttles will start running at 6:45 a.m. the day of graduation. Most buses will stop running at 12:45 p.m., but two shuttles will continue until 5:00 p.m., going every half hour from the Diag to the Varsity Tennis Center and the Glazier Way lots.

Shuttles will run from most local hotels and several campus buildings with available parking, like Crisler Arena. All University-owned parking structures will be open and free for the day while Ann Arbor city lots will offer a flat rate for that day.

To deal with the large influx of people to the Diag, event planners will have portable toilets set up throughout the area and more indoor toilets available in the surrounding buildings like the Natural Science Building and Mason Hall.

Graduation organizers will also set up overflow locations in Hill Auditorium, which will open at 8:30 a.m. on graduation day, and Ingalls Mall, which will have a video display, bleachers and speakers.

During the ceremony, graduates will wait in a staging zone on the east side of West Hall. They will follow the sidewalk through the underpass in West Hall, passing the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, and then cross the main stage located just in front of the Hatcher Graduate Library.

At the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs’s meeting on Monday, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she thinks the Diag ceremony will be a success.

“It will be a lovely graduation,” she said.

The ceremony is planned to take place on the Diag, rain or shine, and is set to last from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Coleman said she hopes the ceremony will return to Michigan Stadium next year.

“We’ll be back to the stadium as soon as we can,” she said.

LSA senior Jane Rho, creator of the Facebook group “Petition To Keep Spring Graduation 2008 At The Big House,” said the lack of information available to students about graduation has her concerned.

“My friends and I are excited because it’s never been done before,” she said. “But I just can’t help but be uneasy.”

Click here to view a map a Spring Commencement’s layout.

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