March 1, 2010

Commencement: One JHU, one big finish for academic year

The more the merrier, or so could be the motto for Commencement 2010.

Taking a cue from President Ronald J. Daniels’ emphasis on “one Johns Hopkins,” the university will break from tradition and fuse the universitywide commencement ceremony with the undergraduate diploma ceremony for one grand graduation observance. The result will be a single ceremony for graduates from all divisions and campuses.

The event will take place from 8:40 a.m. to roughly noon on Thursday, May 27, on Homewood Field.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former chair of the university’s board of trustees, will be this year’s commencement speaker.

For the past several decades, the university has held a universitywide commencement ceremony in the morning that forms the centerpiece for the week’s various ceremonies that formally conclude JHU’s academic year. The Homewood undergraduate diploma ceremony, which had its own guest speaker, was held in the afternoon in the same location. Although the undergraduates had the option of attending the morning ceremony, the majority did not since they would receive their diplomas later that day.

In 2003, the universitywide and Homewood undergraduate ceremonies were moved to Homewood Field to offer a larger, more festive and dramatic setting. With this year’s change, the university expects an event even more festive and dramatic.

“One of my goals has been to foster the theme of one university, one Johns Hopkins,” Daniels said. “The feeling was to have one ceremony where all undergraduates and graduates are invited—to have a mass of graduates on Homewood Field all at one time. We wanted it to be so that you look out on one great family. We expect the place to be packed.”

Daniels said that the selection of Bloomberg as speaker was a natural.

“Who better exemplifies this theme of one university than Mayor Bloomberg,” he said. “He has done so much for all the constituents of Johns Hopkins.”

The single ceremony will feature many familiar and traditional elements, and some new ones.

Jill Williams, associate director of university events, said that every effort has been made to streamline the event and keep it near three hours.

It will still feature the conferring of all degrees, recognition of new members of the Society of Scholars and bestowing of honorary degrees. In addition, all undergraduate students as well as doctoral students in attendance will have their names announced as they file on stage to have their degrees recognized. The majority of students will receive their diplomas following the event; others will receive them at separate diploma ceremonies at their respective schools.

The ceremony will also feature a presentation of the Homewood Schools’ senior class gift, an address from their class president and some pomp and circumstance, including music and the procession of graduates onto the field.

“We have, in essence, made a hybrid of the two ceremonies, and it’s still a work in progress,” Williams said. “We’re shortening some of the things that we did in the morning. We wanted to take a look at the script and see how can we shave anything down but still give [everyone] their due.”

Williams said that the biggest change will be that the student and teaching awards typically presented at the Homewood undergraduate ceremony will be presented at a banquet to be held earlier in the spring. The awards will be noted in the commencement program.

There will also be some physical changes to the ceremony, some subtle and some dramatic.

The student-seating configuration will now be in straight rows rather than triangular zones, and the field will include more chairs for guests, including extra handicapped-accessible seating.

“The field seating is to account for all the extra guests that we expect,” Williams said. “Capacity in the stands is 7,500, and we expect to reach full capacity. With the extra seating, we can handle up to 9,000 people. I can tell you, the place is going to be full of life and excitement.”

To enter the seating area, the students will, as in past years, pass through a 40-foot tower displaying images of the Gilman and hospital domes.

However, the 2010 Homewood undergraduates have a longer route to get there.

Instead of filing out from the nearby Newton H. White Jr. Athletic Center, the undergraduates from the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering will gather on the Keyser Quadrangle and take a ceremonial “final walk” through campus, passing through the Freshman Quad, where their academic journey started. All other graduates will enter from the Athletic Center.

Following the ceremony, the newly minted alumni and their families will be invited to a reception on the Keyser Quadrangle.

Williams said that the new format will make the morning ceremony feel more universitywide than ever.

“The morning ceremony has been the official ceremony, but it just hasn’t had high attendance from the undergraduate population,” she said. “We hope that the bachelor’s students from the other schools, such as the School of Nursing, will attend in big numbers. Their names will be called, and they will be recognized.”

Before joining Johns Hopkins, Williams worked for Hargrove, a special events firm that has handled presidential inaugurations, a papal mass and international summits. She knows how to handle large crowds.

“We’re working through some issues such as parking, but we have a plan in place. We will certainly encourage people to arrive early and carpool,” she said. “We are gearing up and ready. The new format will certainly present some challenges, but we’re going to be prepared for it.”

For more information, updates and announcements concerning Commencement 2010, go to The site will be updated regularly.