“Pomp and Circumstance,” caps and gowns, group hugs and group mugs, and probably a few fears and tears will be evident Saturday as the University of Mississippi hosts its 161st Commencement.
The university-wide ceremony is set to begin at 9 a.m. in The Grove, including a procession in academic regalia, with chosen representatives leading each school’s and college’s members behind its banner. During the morning convocation university awards will be presented, and Chancellor Dan Jones will confer authority to each individual school to present diplomas to its graduates. Each school will hold its own ceremony later on Saturday, at which diploma covers will be presented and graduates will be recognized individually. (Because Commencement follows within hours of the close of final exams – too quickly for faculty to finish the grading process – diplomas will be mailed later.)
In case of rain, a decision will be communicated by 8 a.m. via RebAlert, olemiss.edu, Twitter (@RebAlert), Ole Miss phone-app alerts, signs on the Grove Stage and a blast email to all faculty, staff and students. In that case, the convocation will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Tad Smith Coliseum, and no processional will be held. All ceremonies for the remainder of the day will follow the alternate times and locations in the inclement-weather plan.
Gov. Phil Bryant, a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi College, will be the featured speaker at the morning ceremony. Though the invitation was extended and accepted last year,
“Over the years, we have had leaders from many fields come to campus for our commencement addresses, and Gov. Bryant has provided valuable leadership to our state in both the legislative and executive branches for nearly 25 years,” Chancellor Dan Jones said. “By championing education and business reforms, he has helped drive economic development and provide a brighter future for all Mississippians. We look forward to the insights and challenges he will offer our graduates.”
Bryant’s signing of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act during the recently completed legislative session has sparked calls for non-disruptive protest of his presence at Commencement. Supporters of the bill say its language reinforces freedom of conscience for people in a variety of circumstances; opponents say the law aims to make it legal to refuse service to LGBT people.
Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), a major figure of the civil rights movement, will address the Law School graduation at 11 a.m. in the Grove. CSPAN will film his presentation for later broadcast.
While the numbers on campus for Commencement don’t rival those at most Ole Miss football games, it’s still a prodigious number.
Christine Wallace, director of special events for Ole Miss, said 22,000 chairs – many of them in the Grove and the Circle – will be available for the morning convocation and individual school ceremonies. Carrier Hall, Hume Hall, Coulter Hall, the Lyceum, Farley Hall, Shoemaker Hall, Faser Hall and the Student Union will be open and staffed to provide restroom access, and security personnel will be on hand to offer directions and other information.
“It takes a good 750 people to make sure Commencement carries on,” Wallace said. In addition to planning the details of Commencement itself, the committee that oversees the event and its 14 ceremonies has to consider parking and traffic, accommodations and the interaction of Commencement with athletic events, conferences and other presences on campus.
“We do the planning for how we want it to be, for inclement weather, if this or that goes wrong. It’s seamless,” Wallace said. “We are so thorough in planning that no one ever knows that anything goes wrong. We have a really strong planning team.”