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Campus & Community

Drexel Headed Back to the Ballpark for Commencement

By: Ben Seal

December 12, 2016

Drexel President John A. Fry speaks at last year's commencement.
Drexel President John A. Fry speaks at last year's commencement at Citizens Bank Park.

 

Last June, as Subir Sahu stood in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath Citizens Bank Park, waiting to take the field for Drexel’s first Universitywide commencement in nearly two decades, he couldn’t help but wonder what he would see when he broke into daylight. There were, naturally, some nerves accompanying the occasion and how it would reflect the University’s newly solidified ethos. By the time the procession made its way to the stage, right there in the middle of the infield, all was calmed by the enthusiastic crowd.

“To step out, to see the sea of thousands of family members and students, it was just awesome,” said Sahu, PhD, vice president and dean of Student Life. “I can honestly say — having been here for 10 years — that was my proudest moment as a Drexel administrator.”

Students warmly embraced the change, and families happily piled into the stands without any limitations or space concerns. The experience, Sahu said, was “magical.”

As the University kicks into high gear for the planning for 2017 Commencement, Sahu and everyone else involved are looking to take the best of last year’s event and build toward a celebration that will be even more memorable for  graduates and Drexel’s larger community. After the overwhelmingly positive response last summer, Drexel will be returning to the Phillies’ home field. And this time, with a shift to an evening affair, it will happen under the lights.

Commencement is set for Tuesday, June 13 — a deliberate change from last year’s Saturday morning event, which should ease any logistical concerns about arriving early, said Jackie Hopkins, Drexel’s director of events and visitor relations. It might also benefit everyone to avoid the high-summer heat of a June morning, she said.

While the bulk of the University’s plans for 2017 will focus on streamlining the main event and further developing a tradition at the ballpark, one major change is in store: The larger school and college ceremonies preceding the Tuesday night event will be held at the Mann Center in West Philadelphia, rather than the Convention Center, as they were last year. Additionally, the University will host more of the individual celebrations for smaller schools and colleges than it did last year, Sahu said. The change was made possible by the completed construction at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, which now has a new air conditioning system. The school-specific ceremonies will be held June 12 and 13 during the day, leading into the final gathering at Citizens Bank Park.

More details will be squared away in the coming months, including a speaker to follow last year’s comments from Donna E. Shalala, PhD, president of the Clinton Foundation.

With the groundwork already laid for the University’s new approach to commencement, faculty and staff involved in planning for 2017 have been able to move more swiftly in getting everything settled. A committee has been holding biweekly meetings to prepare. Hopkins said the University is “far ahead of the game” in finalizing its plans.

Returning to Citizens Bank Park for a Universitywide celebration is an important part of continuing to build Drexel into a united community with a shared spirit, Sahu said.

“In so many ways, commencement is the crown jewel of a university,” said Sahu. “That’s where you celebrate the great accomplishments of your students, and we didn’t do that in any sort of community format [before 2016].”

Once the day arrived, with students and families starring on the Phillies’ enormous PhanaVision screen and Dan Baker emceeing the event just as he does the team’s games, the positive energy was evident, according to Sahu.

“We were really proud of what we created last year,” said Sahu, “and we’re looking to strengthen it.”