The University of Kansas celebrated its 146th Commencement May 13. Nearly 4,000 graduates made the traditional walk down the Hill and into David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Chancellor Doug Girod addressed his first graduating class as the University’s 18th leader, and Kevin Carroll, the Alumni Association’s national chair, welcomed the Class of 2018 as alumni and encouraged graduates to connect with fellow Jayhawks through their one-year gift memberships in the Association.
Dr. Richard Weinshilboum, c’62, m’67, received an honorary degree during the ceremony. Weinshilboum is a Mayo Clinic scientist who is a pioneer in the field of pharmacogenomics, the study of how drugs respond to a person’s genetics.
Read more about the storied traditions of KU’s Commencement, and watch our slideshow below for photos from this year’s celebration.
The walk down the Hill is a cherished tradition for most KU graduates. However, some student-athletes have never known the thrill of walking down the Hill due to competition conflicts. KU baseball players, for instance, are often battling in-state rival K-State as graduates gather on Mount Oread.
Meantime, track and field Jayhawks are typically engaged in the conference championship while classmates are popping champagne in Lawrence. Fortunately, one Jayhawk track family made up for lost time and made the most of their KU Commencement experience.
Crossing the finish line
Greg Dalzell, b’86, followed in his father’s footsteps by running for the KU track team. His father, Art Dalzell, d’55, g’64, helped KU win numerous conference championships and a cross country national title (’53) in addition to earning his two KU degrees. Greg followed suit, contributing to a Big 8 conference indoor title (’83) while pursuing his business degree at KU. Unfortunately, the mid-May timing of the 1986 conference outdoor championship meet cost him his opportunity to participate in KU’s time-honored Commencement tradition of walking down the Hill.
Fast forward to 2018, when Greg’s daughter Dorie–a third-generation Jayhawk track team member–was ready to walk, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make it a family affair. While many of her Jayhawk teammates were still competing in the Big 12 outdoor track & field championships in Waco, Dorie was able to cross a more meaningful finish line with her father by her side.
“Dorie’s time in Lawrence has been a great experience for both of us, and I cannot believe how fast it went,” Greg shared. “Commencement was so much fun. I can’t imagine I would have had a better time 32 years ago.”
A family affair
The Dalzells share a rare distinction of having three generations of KU track & field captains in the family. When Dorie was awarded the honor for the 2017 season, joining her father and grandfather in holding the title of KU track captain, it was one of the highlights of her KU career.
“It was really overwhelming,” she admitted in an interview for KU Athletics’ Rock Chalk Weekly. “I knew my grandpa and dad had both been captains, so I always kind of wanted to be one, but I didn’t want to express it outwardly. To be a captain, and know that I had kept that going in our family, it felt amazing.”
Dorie had planned to be competing with her teammates in Waco on Sunday during Commencement. However, fate intervened, and a graduation celebration that was thought to be put off for a later date suddenly became possible.
“After Dorie’s track career ended prematurely, the Commencement walk was a great way for the two of us to cap off our shared KU experience,” Greg reflected after a memorable weekend. “Neither of us will ever forget walking through the Campanile together.”
Kevin Carroll, Chair of the KU Alumni Association, welcomed the class of 2018 to the Alumni Association at Commencement. His remarks were as follows:
I am Kevin Carroll and I am honored to serve as the volunteer Chairman of the Board of the KU Alumni Association. Welcome to the ranks of more than 250,000 proud graduates around the world!
KU is a special place with beauty all around—not just the beauty we see with our eyes, but the beauty we feel in our hearts. As you earned your degree, you have been influenced by countless other Jayhawks who share your passion for KU. Some have been professors or coaches or even roommates you would never have met had you not come to KU.
Many of you have selected mentors to guide you through your student years and beyond—but maybe, others sought you out and asked to mentor you. They saw in you something you did not even see in yourself, and they wanted you to succeed in ways you never imagined. As you leave KU, be one of those people, be a mentor to others. Share the Jayhawk spirit and help others as you have been helped. Share your knowledge and compassion with others. Be a Jayhawk!
Another way to show your school pride is to stay connected. And, the best way to stay connected with all things KU is through membership to the Alumni Association. Thanks to the Alumni Association and KU Endowment, I am happy to announce that all members of the Class of 2018 will receive one-year graduation gift memberships in the Alumni Association.
Your membership begins today, and you can download the KU Alumni App to learn about all of your benefits. And, after today’s ceremony, we invite you to stop by the Adams Alumni Center to toast your graduation at our Commencement Open House.
Please make the most of your membership by attending alumni events and watch parties with other successful Jayhawks wherever you are, all around the world. You also can remain in touch with campus news and fellow Jayhawks through our digital communications, and you can learn more about our Jayhawk Career Network, which will benefit you throughout your life through KU Alumni Mentoring and many other connections. No matter where your journey takes you, you will find Jayhawks to help you feel at home—and we hope you’ll return often to this beautiful campus, your home on the Hill.
Rock Chalk and Congratulations, Class of 2018. Welcome to the KU Alumni Association.
Ask KU alumni about their favorite KU traditions, and inevitably the walk down the Hill at Commencement will rank near the top. Chancellor Robert E. Hemenway famously remarked in nearly every one of his Commencement addresses that “the walk is the ceremony,” and all who have witnessed this unique spectacle agree that the winding procession down Mount Oread is not only beautiful to behold, it has become a cherished rite of passage for Jayhawks culminating their KU careers.
Fondly remembered by alumni, the walk down the Hill has been celebrated at KU with great pomp and pageantry for nearly a century, making it difficult to imagine a KU Commencement ceremony before this famous tradition.
At his final Commencement in 2009, former Chancellor Hemenway summarized the experience best. “Today, you have joined graduates in the University’s most time-honored ritual, one that binds Jayhawks together, that attaches them as friends with an emotional glue that never breaks. As we say every year, the walk is the ceremony. You have to walk before you can fly. The walk prepares Jayhawks for flight.”
2003: Chancellor Hemenway at Commencement
Founded with grand fanfare and lofty expectations in 1865, the University of Kansas was little more than a preparatory school offering a few college classes in its early days. As a result, it took more than four years for its first graduates to earn their degrees.
On June 11, 1873, KU conferred its first degrees at a formal ceremony inside the brand new and barely finished University Hall. The building, the most modern and finest of its kind on any college campus, would later be known for the chancellor who championed its construction and presided over that first Commencement ceremony, John Fraser.
Although KU’s first graduates did not walk down the Hill, KU’s commencement has always featured a procession. At KU’s first Commencement in 1873, the walk was atop the Hill, starting just south of what is now Spooner Hall toward University Hall, positioned just west of present-day Fraser. Around 1897, the graduates adopted the practice of donning academic regalia, including caps and gowns.
When Robinson Gymnasium was completed in 1907, with a larger space for convening a growing class of graduates, the procession moved with graduates gathering at Fraser Hall and continuing west to Robinson, where Wescoe is currently located.
1913: Commencement at Robinson gymnasium
By 1921, plans were being made to construct a memorial stadium on the site of McCook field, and in 1923, organizers decided to try an outdoor ceremony. A giant tent was erected near the new stadium, however the ceremony proved so hot that the tent-covered Commencement would never be repeated.
1923: The infamous commencement tent
In 1924, Commencement exercises were held for the first time at Memorial Stadium located at the foot of the Hill. Graduates walked from Strong Hall down Mount Oread into the stadium, and the tradition continues to this day.
1950s: Commencement as the Campanile is under construction
In the 1950s, KU graduates added to the tradition by walking through the new World War II Memorial Campanile. With the tower nearing completion–yet still clad with scaffolding–enthusiastic seniors found it too difficult to resist and became the first graduates to walk through the Campanile. The symbolic act of walking through Campanile has signaled the transformation from KU student to graduate ever since.
To learn more about Commencement, including the history of class banners, honorary degrees, and the special experience for Big and Baby Jays, read our full feature, The Walk.
For the students who play Big Jay and Baby Jay, their special KU experience is one big secret. The students are told to tell as few people as possible their identity, leading to some awkward questions about their whereabouts on game days.
The identity of the students behind the masks are never publicly revealed. You can’t look them up on any website, and there’s no trace of their mascot exploits on social media.
But when Commencement comes, the graduating seniors get their one day to share with the world the activity that made them both a campus icon and completely nameless.
Laura Ballard, d’08, g’09, spent three of her four years at KU cheering for the Jayhawks from the sidelines as Baby Jay. As a sophomore, a graduating senior explained to her the tradition of wearing the boots for the walk down the hill.
“One of the first rules I learned as a mascot was to never be partially dressed in the suit – it ruins the ‘magic’ of the mascot,” Ballard said. “That’s when it hit me how truly special Commencement is. We spend our mascot career doing our best to perform anonymously, and graduation is the one time when we can be both Baby Jay and ourselves.”
“I overheard lots of people commenting on my shoes. A few thought it was a random way to stand out in the crowd, but I heard many exclaim, ‘She must be Baby Jay!’ I was really proud of all I had accomplished at KU as a student and a member of the Spirit Squad, so it felt good to be recognized. I was even asked to take a few pictures with random students, which actually felt very normal since I posed in many pictures with random people as a mascot.”
To learn more about Commencement, including the history of class banners, honorary degrees, and when the walk through the Campanile got started, read our full feature, The Walk.
The class banner tradition dates back to the first Commencement in 1873. Since then, students have lead their graduating class down the hill with banners designed by the Board of Class Officers. A collection of class banners is available for viewing in the Kansas Union.
For Board of Class Officers member Briana McDougall, ’11, Commencement led to “long discussions about what the banner should say” for the class motto, before settling on “Rooted in the Blue, Towering Toward the New.”
“We also got to take photos with the chancellor in her office before Commencement & sat on stage during the ceremony,” McDougall said. “It was a great honor to be able to represent the class & present our motto to the university.”
Jason Fried, c’14, served on the Board of Class Officers, and was chosen to carry the class banner down the hill. “Looking back, it was a great moment. It was definitely something that my parents and relatives were proud of.”
To learn more about Commencement, including the history of the ceremony, honorary degrees, and the special experience for Big and Baby Jays, read our full feature, The Walk.
Speakers you likely won’t hear at a University of Kansas Commencement ceremony: Chance the Rapper, Oprah Winfrey, or Michael Bloomberg, all of whom have been tapped to speak at commencement events around the country this year.
KU’s Commencement ceremony traditionally features speeches from the university chancellor, the Kansas Board of Regents chair, and the KU Alumni Association chair, and an award presented to extraordinary leaders.
In 2012, under Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, the university began awarding honorary degrees. The honor replaced distinguished citations after a petition to the Board of Regents.
The honorary degree is the highest honor bestowed by the university and is awarded to individuals of notable intellectual, scholarly, professional or creative achievement, or service to humanity.
The nomination process opens to members of the university community and the general public each year in March. The Chancellor’s Honorary Degree Committee then forwards several nominees to the chancellor for consideration. The following October, the Chancellor submits nominees to the Kansas Board of Regents for approval, and the recipients are honored at KU’s Commencement ceremony in May.
2012: The inaugural recipients of honorary degrees; Alan Mulally, e’68, g’69, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co. and keynote speaker; former FDIC chair Sheila Bair, c’75, l’78; former Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, ’45; and renowned composer Kirke L. Mechem.
To learn more about Commencement, including the history of the walk down the hill, class banners, and the special experience for Big and Baby Jays, read our full feature, The Walk.
A Mayo Clinic scientist who is a pioneer in the field of pharmacogenomics — the study of how drugs respond to a person’s genetics — will receive an honorary degree from the University of Kansas.
Dr. Richard Weinshilboum, a KU alumnus, will receive an honorary degree during KU’s 146th Commencement ceremony on May 13. He is the director of pharmacogenomics and chair of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, and he is also the Mayo Clinic’s Mary Lou and John H. Dasburg Professor of Cancer Genomics.
“Dr. Weinshilboum’s important and foundational work has opened the door to new advances that will help patients far into the future,” said Chancellor Douglas A. Girod. “His groundbreaking research in the field of genomics is helping to bring about a new era in medicine that enables doctors to customize treatments to fit their patients’ specific genetic makeups. We are honored to award him with an honorary degree during our Commencement ceremony this year.”
Girod recommended Weinshilboum for an honorary degree to the Kansas Board of Regents, which approved the chancellor’s recommendation.
Weinshilboum will receive the degree of Doctor of Science for his notable contributions in the field of pharmacogenomics. He earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and chemistry and a medical degree from KU, concluding in 1967.
During a nearly 50-year career, Weinshilboum has helped to move his chosen field of study from theoretical to practical. Today, treatments can adjust to a patient’s genetics to increase efficacy or avoid life-threatening side effects, a practice known as “precision” or “individualized” medicine.
He has spent most of his career at the Mayo Clinic, where he has worked since 1972. He has earned continual support from the National Institutes of Health and has earned a number of honors from scientific societies, international organizations and universities.
KU awards honorary degrees based on nominees’ outstanding scholarship, research, creative activity, service to humanity or other achievements consistent with the academic endeavors of the university. Recipients do not need to be KU alumni, and philanthropic contributions to the university are not considered during the process.
Past honorary degree recipients include notable leaders such as Nobel Peace Prize winner and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Google Earth creator Brian McClendon, novelist Sara Paretsky, and Ford chief executive officer Alan Mulally.
Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia and 2016 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is also a 2018 honorary degree recipient. Santos visited campus in October to accept the honorary degree. Learn more about KU’s honorary degrees here. Information about 2018 Commencement events and activities can be found at the university’s Commencement website, www.commencement.ku.edu.
The 145th Commencement of the University of Kansas took place Sunday, May 14, 2017, in Memorial Stadium.
Nearly 5,000 graduates made the traditional “walk down the Hill,” followed by a program and the conferral of degrees by Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
This year, an honorary degree was presented during Commencement to William McNulty, a U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran who created Team Rubicon, a non-profit agency that recruits military veterans to provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid around the world. Read McNulty’s address to the graduating seniors.
Chancellor Gray-Little closed the ceremony with a farewell address to the graduating seniors. In that address, she urged the Class of 2017 to “run toward the chaos. Run toward the situations where you can make a difference. Use the knowledge and the sense of civic responsibility you’ve developed at KU to improve those situations, help people and make this world a better place.”
New graduates receive a one-year membership in the KU Alumni Association, compliments of KU Endowment and the Association, that runs through May 31, 2018. Graduates should update their mailing and email addresses with the University to ensure they receive information.
One of the most treasured traditions at the University of Kansas takes place every spring, when thousands of graduating students walk through the Campanile and down the Hill for Commencement.
Brian Palermo, a KU Admissions representative based in St. Louis, never got to experience that moment. Shortly after graduating in December 2012, he accepted a job at a mental health facility for children in Oklahoma City. Knowing it would be difficult to take time off in May for the ceremony, he let the opportunity slip by.
Earlier this year, Palermo, c’13, shared with his supervisor, Elisa Zahn Krapcha, c’05, j’05, g’11, that he never participated in Commencement. She mentioned that the Admissions team should stage a small ceremony for him.
“I kind of knew we might do a little something, but I didn’t expect too much,” Palermo says.
Krapcha and Heidi Simon, g’00, senior associate director of Admissions, had a surprise in store. On May 8, they summoned nearly 20 team members to the Campanile, where Palermo was given a traditional cap and gown, as well as party beads and a crimson and blue lei.
“As I’m getting ready to walk through the Campanile, Heidi hands me a bottle of sparkling cider,” he recalls. “I got so focused on trying to open it, because people were shouting ‘Pop it, pop it!’ I was looking down at it and still walking when I heard someone say ‘Whoa, whoa! Hold on a moment.’”
When Palermo looked up, he saw Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little standing in front of him. “I was just floored,” he says. “I couldn’t believe she was there.”
The chancellor congratulated Palermo and delivered remarks, reminding him of KU’s noble mission: to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world.
“I challenged the graduates at the 2012 Commencement to continue to do all of these things after they walked down the Hill,” Gray-Little told him. “You’ve done these things even without being there to hear my call.”
As Palermo wraps up his first year as a KU Admissions representative, he’s more determined than ever to continue serving the University, thanks to the kindness and support of his team and Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
“It was just a really special moment that I don’t think I’ll ever forget,” he says.