As President of Lafayette, I am always conscious that decisions made under my leadership will impact the college for decades to come.
There is one decision, however, that presidents find among the most difficult and consequential—the task of deciding, in conditions of uncertain weather, if that year’s commencement will be held indoors or out.
Lafayette takes great pride in the lovely setting offered by an outdoor commencement. The pageantry of the procession, the opportunity for a last look at our beautiful campus, and most importantly, the ability to seat an unlimited number of guests make the Quad the preferred venue.
In the event of rain, the backup plan is to hold Commencement in the gymnasium. We do our best to dress it up with flags and flowers, but space limitations mean that each graduate is limited to four guests.
The morning of Commencement 2016, the sky was overcast, with a 40 percent likelihood of afternoon rain. With hours needed to finalize the setup, I had until 10 a.m. to make the call.
I nervously consulted various staff, faculty, even the chair of the Board of Trustees. I asked when the last indoor commencement had been: so long ago, nobody could remember. I asked what happened last time it began raining midway through the ceremony: the crowd scattered and ran to Colton Chapel.
Most influential, however, were the voices of students I ran into across campus. “It’s gonna clear!” they insisted. “Looks like a great day for an outdoor graduation!” The clincher came from a student at the early morning Posse celebration. “We can’t sing about ’gathering by the twilight’s glow in front of old Pardee’ if we’re not in front of Pardee.”
Taking a deep breath, I made the call for an outdoor Commencement. At 2 p.m. faculty led a festive procession across the Quad followed by 568 seniors in their caps and gowns.
Fifteen minutes after everyone reached the post-ceremony reception in Kamine gymnasium, the downpour began.
Some say fortune favors the bold, but I say luck favors the Leopards!