On May 22, over 12,000 people will fill Goodman Stadium on what forecasts to be a brisk Monday morning. The audience will cheer on Lehigh students as they turn their tassels from right to left, and 1,750 caps will fly as graduates celebrate the 149th spring commencement.
Goodman Stadium will be transformed into a ceremonial field including a main stage with the university’s most prestigious educators, board of trustees, senior class officers, commencement speakers and the Keynote Speaker, Stephanie Ruhle, ’97. Parents, friends and family will watch from the bleachers for the 10 a.m. ceremony.
Graduates should arrive no later than 8:30 a.m., and families should be seated no later than 9:30 a.m. Gates open at 8:45 a.m.
Sara Messick, the director of university events, said preparing for the ceremony takes months, but the physical transformation takes place over a few weeks. Messick works with faculty, senior officers and commencement speakers.
Messick also works closely with Allen Biddinger, the assistant athletic director for facilities and events, who handles the logistics of setting up and breaking down the ceremony, coordinating parking operations and working in conjunction with local police departments.
Biddinger said his team starts setting up two weeks in advance. On the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before commencement, the main stage, reception tents, presidential brunch tents and the building of handicap platforms are built on site.
Stabler Arena is also set up with air conditioning and a live screening of the commencement for those who need to be inside for the ceremony.
Biddinger said Lehigh has a severe weather plan in case inclement weather conditions occur. President John Simon, the Provost’s Office and the athletics facilities staff will make a preliminary decision Sunday night about the location of commencement. However, Biddinger said the final decision will be made at 6 a.m. the day of graduation.
If the severe weather plan is implemented, the ceremony is moved to Stabler Arena. Because of the smaller space, the ceremony would be broken up into two time slots, with the arts and sciences and education colleges at 10 a.m. and the engineering, business and interdisciplinary degree programs at 2 p.m.
Biddinger and Lehigh Police Chief Edward Shupp work together with the Bethlehem, Lower Saucon and Hellertown police departments to coordinate traffic flow.
“This way traffic flows right into campus,” Shupp said. “Hiring all those departments as well as having 18 of our own people out, we can have a smooth transition into the parking lots for everyone to arrive in a timely manner.”
Shupp’s biggest advice for students and parents is to arrive early and expect there to be delays while entering Goodman Stadium.
While Lehigh prepares months in advance for this ceremony, many parents spend even more time planning accommodations and reservations.
Messick said most hotels and restaurants will allow bookings a year in advance.
Dennis Costello, the general manager of Hotel Bethlehem, said the hotel allows guests to book rooms and lunch or dinner reservations a year in advance.
Costello said there are more restaurants in the area than hotel rooms, so it’s easier to find a place to eat than to sleep. He said Hotel Bethlehem serves about 400 people meals on commencement weekend.
With 128 rooms, Costello said the hotel rooms fill quickly for Saturday, Sunday and Monday evening.
For the family and friends who cannot be in Bethlehem on the 22nd, the ceremony can be streamed online.
“Our goal is that we want to make it a win-win,” Biddinger said. “We want parents and graduating students leaving with a very memorable and positive experience of the day.”