By Sarah Knepp
Graduation: a simple word with many meanings and implications. It is the marking of finishing one chapter and the beginning of another.
Here at Miami, it comes with many mixed emotions; some students seem to come to campus ready to graduate, while others cannot even hear the “G word” without panicking about what comes after next.
Students that are not graduating say goodbye to their friends that are leaving and start thinking about their own collegiate mortalities.
Before students march across Yager Stadium to Pomp and Circumstance and head off into the real world, they must attend Grad Fest, an event that allows students to gather everything they need for the big day. This year, it was right after spring break, Tuesday, March 28, through Thursday, March 30.
During these three days, graduating seniors headed to the John E. Dolibois room of Shriver Center to pick up their caps and gowns, honor cords, stoles and more. Although students could go simply to purchase the bare necessities for graduation, Grad Fest was an event that offered students much more.
The event had a circular flow to it. Tables were set up all throughout the perimeter of the room and each section had something different to offer. In the center of the circle were tables, chairs and some light refreshments. Water, mini corn dogs, chips and dip and some sparkling, sugar-coated cookies with the Miami logo were among the offerings.
While food is almost always an incentive for young people to participate in something, some seniors, like accountancy major Angus MacLeod, said while it was good, it did not necessarily belong there.
“I liked the food, but Grad Fest isn’t really a place to stay,” he said. “It’s more like a conveyor belt: walk in, say hi, see overpriced things you won’t be purchasing, get cap and gown and leave.”
Grad Fest, which is planned primarily by the Miami University bookstore each year, also involves the Alumni Association, according to Joy Usner, an assistant director for young alumni and students.
“We offer some ‘Miami swag’ to get students excited about graduation,” she said. “This year, we also had information on our regional chapters, which is a great way for recent grads to stay connected to Miami while networking and exploring a new city.”
Upon entrance, students turned left and were asked to check in and provide some information for the Alumni Association, like phone number, address and an alternative email from the Miami-mandated email all students are given upon enrollment to the university.
As students continued along the event, they were greeted by students who work to fundraise for the senior class gift, an endowment scholarship fundraisers hope will reach $25,000.
Meghan Thebes, a senior nutrition major, volunteered at Grad Fest as a member of the Senior Class Gift Committee. She said that, although college students are notorious for being financially unstable, students were willing to donate to the scholarship fund.
“Many students were drawn in by the prizes and willing to give [to the fund] because you can give leftover MULaa and you cannot get that back after graduation,” she said.
Even students that did not donate, though, were able to spin a wheel, like a more modest version of the famous prop on Wheel of Fortune, to win a prize from the Alumni Association. The prizes included luggage tags, stickers, piggy banks and keychains, among others.
In the next corner, there were lights, a grayish-black background and a camera set up for people to get professional pictures taken if they wanted. These pictures, like any type of composite picture, could be used for graduation announcements, if students wanted to order any with pictures.
Students were also encouraged to buy and order diploma frames, class rings and/or graduation announcements. While these are usually on the more expensive end (for example, diploma frames essentially started at $100), Grad Fest offered some discounts for these things, like 20 percent off diploma frames, to incentivize students to buy them right then and there.
After the more optional stations, students reached the cap and gown station, where they were asked to tell the volunteers their height and they were given gowns that corresponded with that. The tassels that attach to the caps, which are color-coordinated by college, were separate.
Many students ended up only getting the cap, gown and tassel, the bare minimum for graduation.
However, MacLeod was not as satisfied with the way gowns were given.
“I didn’t really like that no one measures you or that they don’t have gowns to try on to see your fit,” he said. “Yeah, I know how tall I am, but most places measure you and then give you a gown.”
Seniors had a variety of stole options to choose from in order to accessorize their graduation getup. First, a generic, white stole with some red stitching that formed the components of the university seal was offered. Any student could get that stole, but it cost $29.95.
Students who studied abroad were encouraged to get stoles with the designs of that country’s flag, to represent their experience. These stoles were typically more expensive, but that is to be expected when something is rarer.
Directly across from caps and gowns was the honor cord station, where students graduating with any type of Latin honors were invited to pick up the cords that serve as representations of their academic accomplishments. Right next to that station was the Honors Program station, where students graduating with Honors with Distinction, meaning they completed the 9 honors experiences and maintained a minimum 3.5 GPA, could pick up their medals to recognize that.
Finally, students reached the end: the checkout line. Many students left with close to nothing, while others left with everything the event had to offer them. All students received a coupon to the Miami University bookstore with their purchases, as well as $10 off their cap, gown and tassel.
Although graduation can be overwhelming, seniors like Thebes said that it offered the few thousand seniors leaving a bit of a peace of mind: having the essentials and learning about resources and opportunities to stay in touch to this home-away-from-home post-graduation can make someone feel, if only for a moment, that they have their lives together.
“Grad Fest is beneficial because it’s a one stop shop for students to get all of their graduation gear before the big day with a good month and a half leading up [to it],” she said.
“Life always gets crazy at the end of the semester with school, student orgs and work wrapping up and students wanting to savor every last minute with your friends, soaking up the last moments of the Miami experience.”