With President Donald Trump slated to give the first Commencement address of his presidency at Liberty University on Saturday, staff are busy putting their plans into motion for one of the largest annual events in Central Virginia.
Although the university has many years of experience hosting large crowds and prominent speakers (past Commencements have drawn up to 40,000), the administration is always looking for ways to improve the guest experience to ensure everyone is as comfortable as possible.
This year, in anticipation of a record crowd for the main ceremony and in line with a planned expansion for Williams Stadium, the university added 8,000 extra seats by demolishing the visiting locker rooms on the east end of the field.
The university also opened up more on-campus housing to accommodate families coming in from out of town. Guests will be staying in 200 apartments on East Campus (about 1,400 beds) and 533 rooms in the Residential Commons (another 1,000-plus beds). Liberty also reserved 290 hotel rooms for Secret Service, state police, and other security personnel who will be coming in to help with Commencement.
“Plans are quickly coming into place for another great Commencement,” said Lori Baker, associate registrar for operations. “Our staff does an amazing job each year pulling together to implement this event and celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates.”
News outlets are already putting the spotlight on Liberty ahead of the president’s visit. The Washington Post reported that extreme safety measures are being taken for the security of all in attendance and noted that, overwhelmingly, graduates have a sense of pride that their university was chosen by the president for his first Commencement speech.
Due to increased traffic and security, guests are encouraged to arrive early (gates open at 6 a.m.) for the 10 a.m. ceremony at Williams Stadium.
Food trucks will be on-site and concession areas will be open.
The university will be running more than 55 free transit buses from most on-campus parking areas to the stadium, as well as from overflow parking at River Ridge Mall. (View the Commencement website for more parking information. See below for a map of parking zones and road closures.) Guests are encouraged to park closest to the degree presentation ceremony that they will be attending. Attendees with disabilities may park in the Speakman lot between the Liberty University Barnes & Noble Bookstore and the Towns-Alumni Lecture Hall. Disability credentials must be shown to enter the lot. The university will also operate more than 80 golf carts to assist people in getting to the stadium.
All guests to Commencement and Baccalaureate (scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at the Vines Center) will go through security checks. Liberty’s clear bag policy will be in effect for Williams Stadium; only clear tote bags that do not exceed 12” x 6” x 12” or one-gallon plastic freezer bags will be allowed. Small handheld clutch purses no larger than 4.5” x 6.5” will be permitted.
Guests are encouraged to view the list of prohibited items before arriving on campus. If inclement weather threatens the main ceremony, Liberty will announce alternative plans through a number of channels, including social media.
After the main Commencement ceremony, Liberty’s schools and colleges will host degree presentation ceremonies for their graduates. This will be the first year that each of the individual ceremonies will take place in indoor venues, with Liberty utilizing a number of new facilities, including the new concert hall at the Center for Music and the Worship Arts, Liberty’s new Indoor Track Complex, and the new Football Indoor Practice Facility, which will be used for its first official event.
Out of Liberty’s 18,000 members of the Class of 2017, more than 7,000 are expected to participate in ceremonies this weekend, including nearly 5,000 who earned their degree through Liberty’s online program. Of the entire graduating class, 85 percent earned their degree online, contributing to the average graduate age of 35-and-a-half.
The Class of 2017 includes more than 1,200 students graduating with an associate degree, more than 8,400 with a bachelor’s, more than 8,300 with a master’s, and more than 550 completing doctoral degrees. Liberty University School of Law is graduating 58 juris doctors.
Almost 5,000 students are graduating with honors this year, including 1,147 with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
The most represented states will be Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, California, Ohio, and Maryland. After the United States, the countries with the most Class of 2017 members are Korea, Canada, Nigeria, China, Germany, India, Ghana, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.
A proud military-supportive university, Liberty is graduating nearly 6,000 students with military ties, including over 3,700 who have served or are serving in the armed forces, almost 2,000 of whom are on active duty.
For many, graduation is a family affair. There are 51 married couples graduating together, 23 parents graduating with a child, 48 siblings graduating together, and nine sets of twins sharing their graduation day.
Overall, the top five majors are Human Services Counseling, Psychology, Interdisciplinary Studies, Business, and Master of Business Administration. Below are the top majors further broken down:
Top 5 Online Undergraduate majors
Top 5 Online Graduate majors
Human Services Counseling
Master of Business Administration
Master of Education
Master of Arts in Teaching
Top 5 Residential Undergraduate majors
Top 5 Residential Graduate majors
Master of Business Administration
Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Master of Public Health
Master of Divinity
Source: Liberty University News Service