A bigger, better commencement

April 26, 2000

Carol J. Schlueter

Bigger and better, with more graduates, new faculty awards, a bigger audience, more ceremonies and, overall, more excitement. That describes Tulane's daylong commencement celebration, led by the unified commencement ceremony, which will turn 2 next month in celebratory style.

On Saturday, May 20, the Louisiana Superdome will play host for the second year to the unified ceremony, when graduates from across the university join to celebrate commencement. The procession begins at 9:30 a.m., led by bagpipes from Pipes and Drums of New Orleans.

President Scott Cowen initiated the unified ceremony last year, returning to a ritual involving all graduates. For the previous 30 years Tulane had only separate ceremonies by each of the 11 colleges and schools.

The May 20 celebration, the pinnacle of the academic experience, continues after the morning unified ceremony, with diploma ceremonies by 10 of the colleges and schools in six different New Orleans venues. It will mark the first time that graduates from Tulane Law School and the School of Medicine will receive their degrees on the same day as other degree candidates.

Both the schools of law and medicine had been on different academic calendars, their ceremonies occurring from 10 days to two weeks after the rest of the institution. Finessing this change in the calendar was Earl Retif, university registrar and one of the leaders of the commencement planning team.

The School of Social Work is maintaining its traditional December commencement, but the school will be represented at the ceremony. Year two of the event has taken an enormous amount of planning by the commencement committee, led by Debbie Grant, assistant vice president for university communications, and her commencement sidekicks Retif and Billie Banker, executive assistant to the president.

Several other committees are at work preparing a huge outdoor campus party, developing the 90-page commencement program and organizing a force of volunteer workers to help make the events a success. Here's a preview of the commencement plans:

The party.
The president's traditional reception for graduates has given way to a new event exclusively for grads and their families. "Wave Goodbye" will have Louisiana food and music on commencement eve, May 19, on the Gibson Quad, featuring music by Dr. John and Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. Approximately 5,000 people are expected to attend.

Awarding faculty.
This year marks the inauguration of the President's Awards to recognize universitywide excellence in teaching and research. The awards honor excellence in undergraduate teaching and in graduate and professional school teaching and research. Each of the three award recipients, who must be full-time faculty members, will receive $5,000 and a medal designed by Franklin Adams, emeritus professor of architecture.

The university also will award recognition certificates for such achievements as top junior and senior faculty in teaching and research, innovative use of technology in teaching, and lifetime research. Each dean is seeking award nominations from the faculty, with the Senate Committee on Teaching Quality and the Senate Committee on Research choosing the winners. Cowen initiated these new awards.

"Scott is to be congratulated in taking such a strong position on this," said Hugh Lester, vice provost, who is organizing the awards program. "It is important that we recognize on a universitywide basis the importance of teaching and research to the university," Lester said.

Timely speaker.
Native New Orleanian Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time magazine, will give the keynote address. He began his journalism career at the old New Orleans daily, The States-Item. Isaacson is a graduate of Harvard College and Oxford University. He joined Time in 1978 and has served as national affairs writer, political correspondent and nation editor. In 1993 he was named editor of new media for Time Inc.

Musically speaking.
Musical entertainment will vary widely, from bagpipers who lead the academic procession to Dr. Michael White's Original Liberty Jazz Band, favorites from Cowen's inauguration ceremony last fall, who will play the interlude, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." Laura Robson, bachelor of fine arts candidate and pianist, will play the national anthem, and Joseph Oliver Akin, Tulane College senior, will sing the alma mater.

Diploma events.
The colleges and schools will occupy many of the city's large gathering sites for diploma ceremonies honoring graduates.

These events will be: Graduate School, 11:30 a.m., Superdome's Northwest Quad Room (Westfeldt Club); University College, noon, Superdome's Southwest Quad Room; Newcomb College, 1 p.m., main Superdome stage; Law School, 3:30 p.m., also on that stage; School of Engineering, 1:30 p.m., Hyatt Regency Hotel Ballroom; Freeman School of Business, 1 p.m., New Orleans Arena; Tulane College, 4:30 p.m., also in the arena; School of Medicine, 2:30 p.m., Theatre of the Performing Arts; School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, 1 p.m., Dixon Hall, uptown campus; and School of Architecture, 4 p.m., Richardson Quad, uptown campus.

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