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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

EWU holding last outdoor commencement ceremony

Workers make preparations Wednesday for today’s graduation ceremony at Eastern Washington University. This will be the last year of holding graduation ceremonies on the football field. (Jesse Tinsley)

Today marks the end of an era at Eastern Washington University.

The Class of 2015 will be the last to receive its diplomas at Roos Field, where June temperatures can turn the football stadium into a sweltering hot plate of pomp and circumstance. And then there are the periodic cloudbursts, like the one last June that drenched the Class of 2014 along with the thousands of friends and family members who had filled the stands to help celebrate.

Although the forecast shows near-ideal conditions in the mid-70s for the university’s final outdoor commencement today, beginning next year it won’t matter.

Eastern is moving its annual ceremonies to the climate-controlled Spokane Arena in spring 2016.

“We’ve had pouring rain, blazing heat” and unseasonably cold temperatures as well, said the university’s vice president of student affairs, Stacey Morgan Foster. “We can’t control the weather.”

In fact, Spokane’s often unpredictable June conditions have been an unwelcome guest at four of EWU’s past five commencement ceremonies.

Plus, with record enrollment each year, the university is outgrowing the stadium.

“EWU values its relationship with the city of Cheney,” Foster said. “However, Roos Field is no longer an adequate venue.”

Many of the departmental graduation celebrations in the days before commencement still are being held at the Cheney campus, university spokesman Dave Meany said.

The Arena, located just north of downtown Spokane, can seat more than 10,000 and could cost $20,000 less than the approximately $60,000 the university currently spends on spring commencement at Roos Field, Foster said.

“We consider it the most important event we do all year,” Foster said. “We really value our students being able to share this with their families and didn’t want to have to start saying things like, ‘OK, everyone gets just three tickets.’ ”

Over the years, Eastern has attempted to make spring commencement more manageable.

Following a massive crowd of about 15,000 for the 2010 commencement, which lasted several hours, Eastern divided graduation into two ceremonies of roughly equal size. Today, for example, two-hour commencement ceremonies are set for 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

But the university now is outgrowing the split-commencement fix as well.

This year, Eastern has 2,856 students graduating with bachelor’s degrees and eligible to participate in commencement, plus 556 master’s and doctoral graduates. The commencement speaker is Spokesman-Review columnist and award-winning author Shawn Vestal, who graduated from Eastern in 2008 with a Master of Fine Arts degree.