Commencement: Annual activities will include a separate master's ceremony and the world's oldest recipient of a graduate degree

Many of the record number of graduates -- nearly 2,500 -- will gather along with their professors, families and friends on the morning of Saturday, May 15, for the rite of passage that is Fort Hays State University's annual Commencement.

The festive ceremony begins at 10 a.m. in Gross Memorial Coliseum on the university's Hays campus. A new feature this year will be an earlier ceremony for students who are receiving master's and education specialist degrees. The hooding ceremony for graduate students will begin at 8 a.m. in the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center in Sheridan Hall. The doors at Sheridan Hall will open at 7 a.m. No tickets are required. At 9 a.m., buses will carry the graduate degree recipients to GMC, where they will also take part in the 10 a.m. Commencement.

The tradition of hooding graduate students dates back to the 12th or 13th century when universities were forming. Today, the hood represents a high academic honor marking one's entrance into a distinguished group of scholars who make up less than 10 percent of the population of the state of Kansas.

In addition to honoring the recipients of graduate degrees, the earlier ceremony will speed up Commencement because the hooding process will have already occurred. That is important because enrollment has skyrocketed at FHSU over the past decade, and there has been a corresponding jump in the number of graduates. Although the numbers may change slightly when the degree-checking process concludes, the current count shows that FHSU will surpass 2,000 graduates for the fifth year in a row. The tentative total as of this week is 2,459 graduates, which includes associate, bachelor and graduate-level degrees. The degrees will go to students who completed graduation requirements in summer 2009, fall 2009 and spring 2010. That compares to 2,385 graduates last year, 2,041 graduates in 2008, 2,176 graduates in 2007, 2,250 graduates in 2006, 1,374 graduates in 2005 and 1,310 graduates in 2004. The jump in the number of graduates for the past five years reflects the university's astounding enrollment growth from 5,506 in fall 2000 to 11,537 in fall 2009.

This year's Commencement will include Nola Ochs (pronounced OHsh), who will receive a Master of Liberal Studies in History at the age of 98. She is the oldest person ever to graduate with a bachelor's degree and will become the oldest person ever to graduate with a master's degree. The application for Guinness recognition is in the works. Ochs was 95 when, in 2007, she graduated from FHSU with a Bachelor of General Studies with an emphasis in history. The earlier degree brought worldwide fame to both Ochs and FHSU. Then governor and now U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius arrived to personally hand Nola her diploma.

Graduates, their families and members of the community always fill spacious Gross Memorial Coliseum each spring for the annual graduation ceremony. Even though the number of graduates includes many Virtual College students who will not come to Hays for the ceremony, seating will be at a premium once again this year.

Commencement is free and open to families of graduates and to all friends of the university. No tickets are required. Kansas Regent Richard "Dick" Hedges of Fort Scott will present a short address at Commencement, and Brenda Meder, director of the Hays Arts Council, will announce the names of the graduates as they receive their degrees. Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, and Dr. Larry Gould, FHSU provost, also will make brief remarks during the ceremony. The Torch, Pilot and Navigator awards will be presented at the Graduate Faculty Brunch at 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 14, open to all members and guests of the Class of 2010, and the recipients will be seated on the platform and recognized during Commencement on Saturday morning.

Because seating in GMC quickly reaches capacity, FHSU offers several other options for viewing Commencement. The entire ceremony will be broadcast live to Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center in Sheridan Hall. With its air conditioning, easy access and comfortable seating, the performing arts center may be the preferred choice as a viewing site for many people, including those who attend the 8 a.m. hooding ceremony and do not wish to move to GMC.

Special seating is available in both GMC and Beach/Schmidt for people with disabilities. Rebecca Luedders will interpret for the hearing-impaired in GMC, and she will be easily visible in an inset on the large screen at Beach/Schmidt.

The ceremony also will be broadcast live by the FHSU student TV station, KFHS; on Eagle Communication cable channels in Hays, Ellis, Russell and WaKeeney; and to dozens of other communities in western and north central Kansas on the Nex-Tech cable system. In addition, the university will make Commencement available both live and for delayed viewing over the Internet so that family and friends can watch the ceremony from distant locations. Those wishing to view the ceremony on a computer should download Windows Media Player. The address for the online broadcast is

To order a DVD of Commencement, send a check payable to FHSU in the amount of $17 for a DVD to Fort Hays State University, Attn: Eva Gould, 600 Park St., Hays, KS 67601. Please include your full mailing address. For further information, call (785) 628-5964.

Gates at the Cunningham Hall/GMC complex will open at 8 a.m. Graduates should park on the main campus and gather in Cunningham Hall by 9:15 a.m.; all others are asked to enter GMC through Gates 1, 2, 3 or 4. Traffic in the GMC area is extremely heavy for Commencement. Parking lots adjacent to GMC typically fill up by 9 a.m., so those arriving after that time are encouraged to park on the main campus. In the event of rain, unpaved lots near GMC will be closed and it will be necessary to park on the main campus.

Shuttle bus service will be provided between the campus and GMC. The shuttle buses will stop in parking lots and wherever drivers see groups of people walking toward GMC.

Graduates and faculty will be seated on the main floor of GMC. Relatives and friends of the graduates will be seated in the bleachers and the balcony. Seating for the disabled will be available in the bleacher areas on either side in front of the stage. One person may accompany an individual requiring seating in these areas. Drivers will find Gates 2 and 3, at the northwest and southwest corners, most convenient for dropping off passengers with disabilities. This area fills quickly so either plan to arrive early or attend Commencement at Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center.

While Commencement is a time of celebration, Fort Hays State University asks those who attend to show decorum appropriate to the occasion. Air horns and other noisemakers are not allowed in GMC. Please do not applaud individual graduates because loud demonstrations are discourteous, drowning out the names of the graduates who follow. An appropriate time for applause will be announced. The audience is also asked to refrain from moving around, and graduates should remain for the entire ceremony.

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Office of University Relations   |  600 Park Street   |  Hays, KS  67601-4099
(785) 628-4206   |   Fax (785) 628-4152
Kent Steward, Director   |  |  Kurt Beyers, Assistant Director   |