Champaign will participate in commencement in one ceremony in May 2014.
The campuswide commencement ceremony will be held outdoors at Memorial Stadium from 9:30 a.m. to noon May 17, a Saturday.
It's the first time in decades that commencement won't be held indoors at what is now State Farm Center (formerly Assembly Hall). Those ceremonies, held on Sundays, were split into two - one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The changes were required because of extensive renovation work being done at the center, which is across the street from the stadium in Champaign.
"They will be in full construction mode at commencement time, so we didn't have any other choice but to find a new venue," said Laura Wilhelm-Barr, the U. of I. director of special events. "Instead of it being the last event of the weekend, commencement will be more of a kickoff point."
The construction work at State Farm Center left the planners of the U. of I.'s
year-end graduation activities searching for a hall large enough to assemble commencement-goers, Wilhelm-Barr said. At last year's event, 2,700 U. of I. graduates attended, with their families, academic leaders and other spectators on hand.
"We discovered that Memorial Stadium is the only venue that's big enough to accommodate commencement," she said. "There just isn't anything else that comes even close."
University officials wanted to get the word out about the commencement changes as quickly as possible, giving parents adequate time to prepare, she said. Several other, smaller-scale graduation-related events, such as unit convocations, also will have to be moved to allow for the construction work.
"It's a big shift and we want everyone to have all of the information they need to make plans," Wilhelm-Barr said. "Parents have already starting calling us and asking about graduation details."
She said the ability to accommodate the graduates of all of the colleges at once is a positive change that will make the event larger and more exciting. Graduates and ceremony participants will be seated on a stage and on the field, while spectators will sit in the west-side bleachers.
Rain is a concern, she said, but commencement will be held outdoors regardless of weather, unless it becomes dangerous. She said final event details are still being worked out and will be announced on the commencement website, which will be updated soon. The parking configuration will remain nearly the same, with State Farm Center lots available for the event.
"We're just going to keep thinking positively and expect great weather," she said.
Wilhelm-Barr said it's likely the renovation project also will affect the 2015 graduation and commencement activities.