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May 13, 2014

Precipitous change: Weather forces cancellation of IUS commencement ceremony

First time in school's history ceremony was called off due to storms

NEW ALBANY — After years of study, dedication and sacrifice, about 700 Indiana University Southeast students were about to walk the stage on Monday to collect their hard-earned degrees.

Until the skies opened up.

Two dangerous storm cells with lightning strikes within two miles of campus shut down the commencement ceremony for the first time in the university’s history. Though initially postponed with students and families moved indoors, the second cell wiped out the whole event.

“All of the campus administration and [Indiana University] administration was deeply disappointed to make this call,” Barbara Bichelmeyer, interim chancellor, said. “We knew that our indoor facilities are less than optimal, but when we decided to confirm the outdoor ceremony yesterday, there was only about a 20 percent chance of rain.”

She said the degrees were technically conferred to students and commencement was technically completed Monday, and the ceremony was the only portion that was canceled.

Bichelmeyer said even though the students had officially graduated, the administration was already working to reschedule. She said the plan is to hold school-by-school commencement ceremonies on campus indoors during the week of May 19. Officials will release more details as they finalize plans this week.

“We want to celebrate with the students and families as much as they want to celebrate,” Bichelmeyer said. “Safety has to be our first concern, but we will work to do justice with the ceremony.”

Just minutes after taking the stage and beginning the ceremony, Michael McRobbie, president of Indiana University, was handed a notice from IU Southeast Police to get people indoors.

Families, students and staff crowded into two residence halls and Knobview Hall, one of the school’s academic buildings.

But as suggested by a group of students who threw confetti following the announcement to postpone, not all of them were disappointed in the delay.

Glenn Kennedy, an elementary education student, said during the delay that he’d still cross the stage, but only if it didn’t threaten to interfere with his ability to watch the New York Nets face off against the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs that night.

“For my parents’ sake, I’ll walk, they’ll be upset if I don’t,” Kennedy said. “After I walk? I’ll get out and watch the game.”

Kennedy didn’t have to choose.

Varese Hodge, a nursing student who just earned her bachelor’s of science in nursing, said during the delay that she was mostly participating in the ceremony for her children.

“I’m a little irritated,” Hodge said. “I’m tired, my family’s here and we want to go eat. It’s just disappointing.”

Donna Kiefer and her husband, Ralph, drove from Jasper to watch their granddaughter graduate from college.

Donna said though it was disappointing to see everything canceled after driving about 80 miles, they’d do it again.

“[We’re somewhat disappointed], but her graduating overrides everything,” Donna said. “It’s her day, whether it’s rain or shine. No question, we’d come back.”

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Theater students rehearse a scene from "Seussical the Musical," directed by Silver Creek Theater Director, Alonzo Richmond, and New Albany Theater Director Amy Harpenau at the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater Thursday evening. The musical includes around 70 students from 12 local schools that will be performing Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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