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KU Commencement 2024: True to tradition

Despite football stadium construction, 2024 grads take customary walk down the Hill.

by Megan Hirt

The 2024 Commencement exercises on May 12 were decidedly different from all others since 1873, yet the work-in-progress setting still proved a welcome stage to celebrate goals fulfilled.

“Perhaps you’ve heard, Memorial Stadium is under construction,” joked Michelle Heffner Hayes, f’91, professor of theatre & dance, who served as master of ceremonies. “There may be a few more cranes in attendance today compared to past Commencement ceremonies, but we were determined to give you, as graduates, the chance to walk through the Campanile and into Memorial Stadium and to participate in this hundred-year-old KU tradition.”

Whatever may have been lacking in infrastructure—the west bleachers have been torn down for the stadium’s sweeping renovation, part of the larger Gateway District project—was certainly made up for with the morning’s picture-perfect blue skies and blissful 75-degree temperature. Because of the reduced seating in the stadium, the event was livestreamed at the Kansas Union and Jayhawk Welcome Center.

Huge efforts by stadium contractors and KU landscapers readied campus for May 12’s unique Commencement.

The “decidedly different” theme was one the Class of 2024 was all too familiar with, having arrived as freshmen in the middle of a global pandemic. Chancellor Doug Girod acknowledged their unconventional experience in his remarks. “We know that many of you missed high school graduations in 2020 because of the pandemic,” he said, “so it was really important for us to make sure we could pull this one off.”

Girod encouraged the new grads to use their talents to address the numerous challenges facing the world, and pointed to the examples of pioneering Jayhawks Barney Graham, m’79, a principal force behind the development of the COVID-19 vaccine; Brian McClendon, e’86, creator of Google Earth; and Loral O’Hara, e’06, who in April returned from a six-month mission on the International Space Station. “As we look across the stadium today,” Girod told jubilant grads and proud families, “it brings us all great joy to know that each of you has the capacity to do great things, like so many of the Jayhawks who have come before you.”

In a KU Marketing video shown during the ceremony, several Class of 2024 graduates read letters they’d written to their younger selves, a stirring patchwork of practical advice, humorous reflections and Jayhawk pride:

KU Commencement 2024

May 12, 2024

The Association and chancellor’s office on May 11unveiled Jayhawk Send-Off, a Jayhawk Welcome Center celebration where grads were invited to sign their class banner.

Megan Hirt, c’08, j’08, is assistant editor of Kansas Alumni magazine.

Photos by Steve Puppe
Jayhawk Send-Off photo by Dan Storey

Issue 2, 2024


Commencement, Tradition
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