Jumping Back In Time

After more than two decades, graduation returns to historic Camp Randall Stadium.

By Matthew Latuszek Photos by Matt Henricks Print Design by Tanae Swenson
The beautiful main entrance to Camp Randall will be graduates’ last entrance as enrolled students this coming May.

Over the course of its 96-year history, Camp Randall Stadium has been the site of a variety of lasting memories for generations of Badgers. Thousands of students and alumni flock to the stadium each fall to enjoy Badger football, as well as the now famous “Jump Around” tradition. On May 17th, more memories are sure to be made when the Class of 2014 celebrates the first commencement at Camp Randall Stadium in more than 20 years. As an iconic landmark on the UW-Madison campus, Camp Randall Stadium is the ideal place for the senior class to gather together to commemorate the culmination of years of hard work and dedication.

Camp Randall’s newly renovated north side houses academic and training facilities for student athletes, as well as a new scoreboard for a better “game day” experience.

Part of the excitement surrounding the return of commencement to Camp Randall Stadium can be attributed to the rarity of such an event. Commencement was first held outdoors at Camp Randall Stadium in 1925 with “mechanical amplifiers,” a primitive version of speakers that would go unrecognized by practically any guest at this year’s graduation ceremony. Graduation festivities were then held annually at Camp Randall Stadium from about 1960 to 1990. Since that time, commencement ceremonies have routinely been held at the Kohl Center over the course of Saturday and Sunday, during which the four ceremonies have been organized according to school and college.

Despite the recent trend of holding graduation ceremonies at the Kohl Center, there has always been a sense of intrigue regarding a possible return to Camp Randall Stadium. The idea had been discussed for over three years, but it failed to come to fruition until Chancellor Rebecca Blank openly advocated for the idea. Joe Meeker, President of the Class of 2014 at UW-Madison, described the initial process, saying, “One of the first things Chancellor Blank asked the student government in our initial meeting was why commencement was not held at Camp Randall. To be honest no one really had an answer; it was just always at the Kohl Center.”

After receiving a vote of confidence from Chancellor Blank, the idea of commencement at Camp Randall Stadium was examined more closely. Weeks of discussions took place regarding the possibility of moving commencement back to Camp Randall Stadium. Following extensive deliberations including students, student leaders and administrative officials, the decision was finalized. This May, nearly 6,000 graduates and 40,000 guests will descend upon Camp Randall Stadium to mark the culmination of their educational careers at UW-Madison.

Administration is hoping for blue skies like this during commencement this May, where the ceremony will proceed rain or shine in Camp Randall’s outdoor seating.

The event should prove to be a powerful symbol of unity for the entire senior class, especially considering that the students are together as a full class only one other time: freshman convocation. “Sitting alongside your entire graduating class will be a really powerful experience. Regardless of your major, school or college, commencement is an opportunity to think about the time we’ve shared with all our fellow Badgers,” Meeker says.

The approximately 75-minute ceremony will offer the graduating class a final chance to gather as one, providing closure to their journey here at UW-Madison. Lori Berquam, Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students, goes on to describe the unique opportunity offered by the graduation ceremony in a press release from university officials.

Although graduates will not be walking across the stage at commencement, the field will be large enough to seat all graduates, while friends and family members occupy the stands. With a capacity of 80,321, Camp Randall’s capacity is far larger than the Kohl Center’s, which is 17,320.

“One thing I’ve heard from students is that this is a culminating event for their class and a bookend to the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students,” Berquam says. “This is an opportunity to feel that affinity, that pride, and see the impact of their class all together in one place.”

Not only will the move foster a spirit of unity among the graduating class, but it will also aid UW-Madison in obtaining higher-profile speakers. Previous speakers were usually charged with the responsibility of speaking at the four different ceremonies held in the Kohl Center. One inclusive ceremony will help put an end to the repetitive nature of such a task and pave the way for inspirational speakers that might not have been able to make such a time commitment.

Aside from the change of venue, the ceremony itself will also undergo a substantial change, as students will no longer walk across the stage and have their names called individually. Instead, students will be recognized by their specific college in the stadium. Students will have the experience of hearing their names read and being awarded diplomas at smaller ceremonies put on by individual departments and colleges.

The historic stands of Camp Randall will be filled with graduates’ families and friends as they observe the upcoming commencement ceremony this May.

Before the separate ceremonies hosted by each college, the massive family parties and the conclusion of their careers at UW-Madison, the Class of 2014 will gather for one final time to celebrate their accomplishments throughout college. “Before everyone takes that next step in their lives, it’s great that we have the opportunity as a graduating class to gather together and reflect on our time at UW-Madison,” Meeker says. “What better place is there to do that than Camp Randall? It’s already home to so many of our memories. Now we are just adding graduation to that list.”