College officials still feeling good about outdoor commencement

Last month, Tabor?s Class of 2010 went down in history as the first to receive their diplomas in Joel Wiens Stadium.

Organizers met last week to discuss what they learned, lost and gained with the change. Moving the 100th commencement outdoors involved hund?reds of hours of planning, effort and labor.

In retrospect, they said, it was well worth the investment.

?I think if indeed people felt it was a fun experience in a nice, outdoor setting, that really makes it worth the extra effort,? said Douglas Graber, director of maintenance at the college.

At commencement, the wind posed a particular challenge.

?We learned we can do it in a 30 mph-plus wind,? Graber said. ?Initially, we didn?t think it would be possible. We thought (the wind) would destroy (the event). We thought we needed to call it and go somewhere else.?

For the ceremony itself, Graber and his crew bore the brunt of the work as they moved equipment and set up the stage and chairs.

He estimated it took some 60 worker hours just to set up and tear down.

?That may be reduced when we once have the flow,? he said.

Volunteers put in hours, too, including Don and Marion Graumann, who painted plywood?120 sheets purchased for $4,000?used to protect the field.

?They must have put in more than 80 hours painting the plywood green,? Graber said.

The sheets were considered a facility purchase, said President Jules Glanzer, to be used for future events.

Asked about the genesis for the change in venue, Glanzer said that while the stadium was being built, he was often asked whether graduation would be there. He would respond, ?Well, we don?t know, but it sure would be a nice place.?

Once the stadium was completed, he asked Roxanne Stauffer, senior class president, what the students would want.

?She came back and she said, ?Oh, we would love to do that,?? he said. ?Then (organizers) got together and started thinking about it.?

Two concerns loomed.

?The issues were warranty on the facility and the track, and we were going to take care of that with plywood,? he said. ?Then second thing was weather.?

After the commencement committee met, the consensus was to go ahead with the plans to move commencement outdoors.

?It was not an easy sell,? Glanzer said. ?I had a lot of reservations. It was one of the risks I often wished I had not taken until we did it. And then it really turned out great.?

In the past, the ceremony has been in the college gymnasium, which seats 2,100, Glanzer said. Moving the ceremony outside allowed for a record attendance of more than 2,600.

?Some who usually don?t come said, ?Great, I can come now,?? he said.

At the President?s Party for seniors and their families the night before, Glanzer said people expressed appreciation to him for moving the graduation outside.

?I lost count of how many people came up and said, ?Thank you,? and then they referred to the gym as ?the sweatbox,?? he said. ?It?s like they dreaded going to graduation because of how hot it was and how uncomfortable the seats were.?

Organizers asked graduate participants to avoid wearing high-heeled shoes on the track and field because of the pressure per square inch on the surface.

While the track is vulnerable, the greater concern is the field.

?(A spiked heel) might make a hole in the track, but on the turf there?s only about (2 inches) of rubber in there. (The heels) can literally puncture the membrane, which controls all of the drainage,? Glanzer said. ?It?s a very sophisticated field.?

Even though no damage was done, the potential is there.

?People also didn?t listen to us,? he said. ?We will probably go buy about three dozen flip flops and simply say ?You have to take your shoes off. They?ll be right here for you afterwards, and you have to wear these.?

A change in location also affected some of the traditions that have followed the ceremony in the past.

?So here?s something we lost?the clarion and the big circle singing the (Tabor) song,? Glanzer said. ?We?re trying to figure out how to bring that back. That?s a tradition we want to keep.?

DJ Freeman, executive assistant to the president, headed the planning, which included decorations and music performed by the band and choir.

?We knew it was going to be windy, but we didn?t know how windy,? she said. ?Then you have to think of things such as clothespins and bricks?none of them worked.?

But going through the experience once makes it easier the next time, Freeman added.

For some, the sound quality at the ceremony was a welcomed surprise.

Initially, Brad Vogel, professor of choral music, had questioned the impact being outdoors would have on the concert choir?s performance.

?We have to be careful what we sing?something strong, full and forceful,? he said about choosing an appropriate song.

Vogel conducted the choir, which sang ?My God is a Rock? a cappella, and the audience feedback he received was positive.

?They could hear the text and everything,? he said.

Credit for the sound quality goes Tabor?s technology director, Chris Glanzer, and his company, Glanzer Pro Audio, which has been contracted for sound at Bethel College?s commencement, Wichita RiverFest and other outdoor events.

?I actually was surprised how things worked,? Chris Glanzer said, referring to 25 to 27 mph winds with gusts as high as 35 mph. ?This definitely was a test.?

Because of stadium logistics and policies, he said it took about six hours to get the equipment manually pushed to the stage and installed. At Bethel, he can complete instillation in less than two hours because he is able to drive a vehicle onto the field itself.

According to President Jules Glanzer, he and others agreed with Vogel?s succinct summation of the first graduation at the Joel Wiens Stadium.

?Commencement wasn?t as serious as it?s been?it was ungodly hot and windy but strangely fun.?

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