UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- It's been 50 years since the UI held an outside graduation ceremony. It moved because of renovations to the State Farm Center. WCIA-3's Anthony Antoine finds out how things went.
Seniors got their diplomas at the 50-yard line at Memorial Stadium. It took a lot of work, but officials from UI say things went smoothly. The lines to get in started early. UI employees checked bags and handed out programs.
"It's a football field and we had to turn it into an academic ceremony. It took a lot of people to bring this all together."
About 4,000 students graduated.
"I'm truly grateful for my parents. I'm graduating debt-free. Without them, I don't know where I would be today."
More than 16,000 people shared the moment with them.
"We're from Champaign, so we got to enjoy him four more years and he's ready to move on and conquer the world."
Steve Meid came to watch his wife cross the stage.
"I think it's a great example for all of my kids. I've got two that are juniors that are going to college next year and to let them see this kind of graduation and see her getting her masters is great inspiration as well."
After round-the-clock planning, the university had a few question marks going into the day.
"We were concerned about the weather, so that was a big concern and we ended up with a beautiful day."
They had thousands of ponchos just in case, but plan to use them next time the ceremony is held at Memorial Stadium.
"We'll do it for at least the next couple years until the State Farm Center is renovated. Maybe we'll keep doing it here. We'll see."
After graduation, people stopped by the Alma Mater to take pictures. She's back on her pedestal after being restored. Perfect timing for the big day.
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- Memorial Stadium is pretty empty now, but Saturday morning, thousands of people will be there to watch an outdoor commencement ceremony. It's been about 50 years since graduation was outside. Since there's just one event this year, instead of two, people should expect to take a little extra time getting settled. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera explains, there's a lot to know before heading there.
You can only come in one of two entrances on the west side of the stadium, but a lot of the rest of the rules are the same as if you were attending a football game.
"We're just trying to figure out the best way to organize it and manage it," said University of Illinois police Lt. Matt Myrick.
It's a lot of work to put together, a commencement ceremony by itself, let alone at a brand new venue. But, with the Sate Farm Center out of commission because of construction, grads will head across the street to Memorial Stadium.
"One giant session with everybody coming at the same time," said Myrick.
The rules are a little more lenient than they would be for an Illini football game.
"You can bring in umbrellas, you can bring in seat cushions, you can bring strollers, diaper bags, camera bags and cameras," said Myrick.
But, getting in will be half the battle. Parking is on a first-come, first-served basis, staring with lots closest to the stadium and moving further away. There's no drop off point nearby either.
"If you're bringing folks that may be elderly or if they have conditions that may make it harder for them to walk a long distance, you probably need to come early and park as close as you can," said Myrick.
Once you get there, expect to wait awhile before going in.
"Every bag will be searched and every person is subject to search that enters the stadium," said Myrick.
Officers say the name of the game is patience since everyone will be coming and going about the same time.
"Don't plan on leaving the hotel or the house at 9:20 and being able to whip right into a parking spot and be inside by 9:30 because there will be lines to park, there will be lines to get in the portals," said Myrick.
There will be some golf cart shuttles running between the parking lots and the stadium so you can use those if you want. Some things you can't bring include book bags, food, noise makers or banners. Doors open at 8 am.
Police advise anyone who doesn't need to be near Memorial Stadium to stay away. Just like on game day, Kirby will be closed between First and Fourth. After graduation, First Street will be one-way going north from Irwin Drive and one-way south of Irwin Drive.
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- Come rain or shine, UI graduates will have a special commencement this year. The chairs are up. The stage is ready. However, organizers say just two days out, there's a lot to do. One thing they aren't worried about is turnout.
As of Thursday, they'd already passed out 19,000; way more than in previous years. They say a great speaker, having it outdoors at Memorial Stadium and the fact that it's all on a Saturday is enticing more people to come.
"I think everybody is excited. It's a great opportunity and great to have everybody together. In the past, there have been two ceremonies indoors. But it will be nice to have everybody in one big ceremony," says Laura Wilhelm-Barr, director of special events.
This will be the first outdoor commencement in 50 years. Just in case it rains, people are allowed to bring in umbrellas. Organizers are passing out ponchos to all 3,500 graduates.
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