13 hours with the Class of 2013

Jody Serrano

In his commencement address Saturday, UT President William Powers Jr said each graduate had a unique story to tell but had one thing in common: They all graduated from UT. 

Documenting the graduation experience of more than 8,300 graduates with different stories to tell is impossible. Instead of trying to document all these different stories, The Daily Texan worked to document the students' shared graduation experience by spending 13 hours with the Class of 2013. 

The Texan sent one reporter and various photographers to follow the UT graduates Friday and Saturday. We posted updates on what the graduates what experiencing every hour. Overall, the Texan attended seven individual graduation ceremonies over the two-day period and six iconic campus locations, including the Perry-Castaneda Library, the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center and Gregory Gym. 

College graduation is not just a wake up, graduate and go to sleep ordeal. It's an experience. The day is filled with preparation, spending time with family and visiting places graduates might not see for a while. Below is the experience, in chronological order, of the UT Class of 2013. 

Hour 1: 10 a.m. Friday — "Celebrate good times, come on"

About 314 students left Gregory Gym with government degrees after the first College of Liberal Arts commencement ceremony Friday morning.

Matthew Haynes, a senior academic advisor for the college, said he will remember the Class of 2013 as the independent class. Haynes said this group of students went beyond just going to classes, taking internships and other opportunities.

"Don't stop continuing to find your own opportunities," Haynes said. "Don't wait around for them to be handed to you – make your own."

The ceremony ended with "Celebration," a song by Kool and The Gang.

Hour 2: 11 a.m. Friday — Schmoozing with government graduates

Government senior Victoria Soto left Gregory Gym with a sparkle in her eye.

Soto was surrounded by family and friends as soon as she left Gregory Gym, where 314 students graduated from the College of Liberal Arts Thursday morning.

A crowd of about 500 students, their friends and family gathered outside to talk and take pictures after the ceremony. Soto said she was feeling overwhelmed and a little scared after walking the stage.

"I don't want to leave," Soto said.

While she is leaving UT, Soto said she is planning to stay in Austin for two years before she applies to law school.

Tiffany Williams also graduated with a government degree Thursday. Williams was accepted to the Cornell University Law School in New York and plans to attend in the fall.

"It's kind of just starting to set in that I won't be here next year and I'm moving on," Williams said.

Williams said she is in the process of finding a summer part-time job. She said she felt attending a school with a diverse student population has prepared her to live anywhere.

She had a few parting words for her fellow graduates: "We did it, so go apply it."

Hour 3: 12 p.m. Friday — Sen. Kel Seliger's Ten Commandments: College Edition

State Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, rewrote the Ten Commandments in modern times on stage in front of a thousands during his UT commencement address at the Frank Erwin Center.

Seliger delivered the commencement speech for UT's College of Liberal Arts joint ceremony despite a busy schedule at the Texas Legislature. He kept his speech light and peppered it with jokes, drawing laughter from the crowd throughout his time on stage.

High-profile speakers at college commencements across the country included President Obama at Ohio State University and Oprah Winfrey at Harvard University.

"You have me," Seliger said.

The highlight of his speech was when he delivered the Ten Commandments and rewrote them to apply to college life. Some of Seliger's commandments are below:

–     The last supper would be pizza and cola the next morning.

–     There would be a new edition of the Ten Commandments every two years to limit reselling.

–      The forbidden fruit would be eaten completely as long as it did not come from the Jester cafeteria.

–      The end of the world would be known not as armageddon, but as finals.

–     There would be no mules or sheep or goats, just mountain bikes.

–      Moses and the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 days because they didn't want to answer directions and look like freshman.

–     Creation was not done in six days. People would wait until the last day, pull an all-nighter and be done by 8:15 a.m.

Seliger kept the crowd laughing throughout his speech, opening with brief excerpts from his college experience. Seliger graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

"My college education meant a tremendous amount to my family. It stopped my mother from ragging on me," Seliger said.

Hour 4: 1 p.m. Friday — "Three hundred dozen roses expected to be sold at graduation"


Sean Weicks got to UT at 4 a.m. Friday. His task: set up the three flower stands on campus that are estimated to sell about three hundred dozen roses for Friday and Saturday's commencement ceremonies.  

Weicks works for Commencement Flowers, a local business that sells flowers exclusively for graduation, and was stationed at Bass Concert Hall selling roses and UT commencement t-shirts Friday. Commencement Flowers will donate a portion of profits to UT to support University programs.

Roses from Commencement Flowers cost $30 a dozen and UT commencement t-shirts cost $20.

Weicks said it's funny to see his friends post pictures of themselves on Facebook with roses because it means he probably met their parents.

"I don't know what their parents look like, but I probably sold them those roses," Weicks said.

Hour 5: 2 p.m. — "Remember the library"

People walking in with a sweat-drenched wardrobe was a common sight at the Perry-Castaneda Library during Friday's graduation ceremonies.

"Water," said a graduate, who walked in with her hair pulled up and her white College of Liberal Arts graduation sash around her shoulders.

The Perry-Castaneda Library offered free cake, lemonade, water and a photo booth for graduates and their families in their first annual graduation celebration. UT Libraries spokeswoman Travis Willmann said staff wanted to give students a place to relax and remember the role the library played during their time at UT.

Willman said staff also set up the event as an outreach effort. Libraries don't have alumni like colleges and schools do and PCL needs student support, he said.

"We hope that they take away that this place helped them get through college and make it to this point," Willman said.

A couple hundred people visited the library today. Library staff said visitors included parents from California, Virginia and even Monterrey, Mexico.

Hour 6: 3 p.m. — "Luck does not exist"

College of Communication commencement speaker Stan Richards does not believe in luck. He believes people get what they earn.

The founder of the Richards Group, one of the largest independent advertising groups nationwide, addressed thousands at the college's commencement ceremony Friday. Richards urged graduating students to recognize the value in graduating from UT. Eighteen current Richards Group employees are UT alumni, he said.

Many students who come to UT are at the top of the class, he said. But once they get to University, which Richards called the "land of the ten percenters," they find they are probably just like the Average Joe.

Once students realize this, that's when they must focus on doing their best.

"I can't say whether I was greatest creative talent at Pratt, but I’m sure nobody at the school worked harder," Richards said. "I was hungry, I still am, I still work hard all day."

Hour 7: 4 p.m. Friday — Wait times lasting up to 45 min at Martin Luther King Jr Blvd

People leaving UT graduation ceremonies at the Frank Erwin Center Friday waited up to 45 min to get picked up because of the amount of traffic, Austin Police Department officials said.

APD officer Rick Zapata said traffic on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd has been up and down all day, typically increasing as it got closer to ceremony time. Zapata said people were complaining about a lack of parking and how much they had to walk to get to the center.

“I feel and hear their frustration,” Zapata said.

He said there was a fair amount of elderly people making the trek in the heat.

"I can't tell you how many ladies walked by with shoes in their hands," Zapata said. "Nicely dressed and sweaty."

Four ceremonies were scheduled at the center, including the communication, liberal arts and business convocations.

Hour 8: 5 p.m. Friday — Graduation is not just for family

Graduation is not just a family event, but also an event for friends, friends of friends and the relative you haven't spoken to in a long time.

Mary Blocker left San Antonio at 4 p.m. Friday to make it to her soon-to-be stepson's graduation from the McCombs School of Business at Gregory Grym. It is the first graduation she's ever been to.

Blocker said being at a graduation is exciting and seeing her stepson graduate makes her eager to see her daughter graduate from Texas State University in a few years.

Hour 9: 6 p.m. Friday — "Leave, but don't totally leave"

Graduates from the McCombs School of Business were told not to completely leave UT after graduation and were encouraged to give their time and talent back to the school.

Commencement speaker Jeffrey Swope, managing partner of real estate firm Champion Partners Ltd., graduated from the business school in 1973. But Swope never really left. Since he graduated, he has served on the board of various groups at McCombs and UT, including serving as chairman of the University Development Board and trustee of the McCombs Business School Foundation.

Relationships are important, he told the 600 students receiving a business administration masters degree. Almost every relationship needs to be a good one, and good relationships happen in helping others, Swope said.

"Don't get me wrong, the McCombs community wants you to go out into the world and leave your mark, that's what you're here for," Swope said. "But I would submit that your relationship with UT would submit you to give back a small amount of your valuable time, a small piece of your immense talent."

At 7 p.m., the Texan ended coverage for the day. We resumed our coverage of 13 hours with the Class of 2013 Saturday.

Hour 10: 9 a.m. Saturday — Setup is ongoing at the UT Tower

UT officials have one goal for Saturday's graduation ceremony in front of the UT Tower – make sure the 25,000 expected guests have a good time.

"There are three events you don't mess with in people's lives – their wedding, their funeral and their graduation," said Susan Threadgill, production director for University Events.

University Events director Rod Caspers said UT spends all year preparing for graduation. Setting up for graduation involves intense planning and preparation, he said. Curbs are repainted, flowers are replanted and 15,000 chairs at set up in the late hours of the night.

Caspers said UT started setting up the bleachers in front of the tower in April. University Events also works with the individual schools and colleges. When one school said they wanted confetti cannons, Caspers said his office tracked them down.

"It's kind of like we're inviting family and friends to our house. You don't invite family and friends to your house if you don't have enough food," Caspers said. "I don't want people to have a bad experience because we didn't plan for it.

Caspers said his office is already planning next year's graduation ceremonies.

Hour 11: 10 a.m. — "You are the 38 percent…act like it"

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, urged UT's Hispanic graduates to step up and demand they change they want in his graduation speech Saturday.

Martinez Fischer delivered the convocation for UT's Center of Mexican American Studies graduates Saturday morning. Fischer said the biggest challenge in Texas is not reforming higher education or expanding healthcare, but the 38 percent Hispanic majority that does not get involved in the legislative process.

The ceremony was part of multiple ceremonies for UT's College of Liberal Arts. With more than 21 academic departments and more than 41 majors, the college is one of the largest at UT.

Martinez Fischer urged graduates to think about ways they as Hispanics be more involved in decisions and issues affecting Texas.

"It's either going to be Latino brainpower that's going to be fixing those problems or Latino pocketbooks that are going to be financing those problems," he said.

Hour 12: 11 a.m. — The Great Texas Exit

Graduate student Stacey Jackson did not dare to enter the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center during her time at UT.

"I said, 'I'm not an alumni yet so I'll wait until my time,'" Jackson.

Jackson graduated with a masters in African and African Diasphora Studies Saturday. She stepped into the alumni center for the first time for the Great Texas Exit, a two-day graduation celebration hosted by UT's alumni group, the Texas Exes.

More than 2,600 graduates had visited the center by noon Saturday for free campagne, cupcakes and pictures with beloved UT icons, including mascots Bevo and Hook 'em.

"Your connection with the University isn't over. You're kind of starting a new chapter being an alumni" said Katie Lauck, campus relations coordinator for the Texas Exes. "We want to welcome you into the new family."

Lauck said the alumni organization was also offering a $200 discount for a life membership with the Texas Exes. Member benefits include career services, access to tailgates and online access to UT's library system. The regular price for the life membership is $1,000.

The Great Texas Exit will continue until 6 p.m. Saturday.

Hour 13: 12:00 p.m.  — The differences between graduate school and hell

The dean of UT's School of Graduate Studies warned UT graduates of the consequences of having a doctorate degree Saturday.

"For the rest of your life, the next time you do anything stupid someone will make sure to point out you have a doctorate," said Judith Langlois, vice provost and dean of the school. She has a doctorate from Louisiana State University.

Langlois gave the opening speech at the ceremony and UT President William Powers Jr handed out diplomas. Powers is scheduled to speak at the event. As of 1:15 p.m., he had not spoken. However, the dean kept the crowd entertained, comparing graduate school to hell on stage.

Langlois outlined the differences between graduate school and hell. Some of these are below:

–      You family actually understands the concept of hell. They might not understand the concept of graduate school.

–      You don't have to have three letters of recommendation to go to hell.

–      You would never tell someone who got on your nerves, "Oh shut up and go to graduate school."

–     Hell is forever. Graduate school only seems like forever.

People packed UT's Bass Concert Hall, which can seat to 2,900, Saturday for the graduate school ceremony. Those who could not find seats watched the ceremony on screens outside the hall.

Hour 14: 1:00 p.m. — A toast to all the memories ​(An extra hour with the Class of 2013 – yes, we accidentally did 14)

Cain and Abel's on 24th Street seemed a little lonely Saturday afternoon, though staff said they are prepared to get slammed with recent graduates, and their parents, after UT's main graduation ceremony at 7 p.m.

Bars around Austin are anticipating a busy night Saturday, as the Class of 2013 ditch their graduation robes to take a celebratory swig. Julian Tapia works at Buckshots on Sixth Street and said he saw about 800 people Friday night, the bulk of which he attributed to graduation.

Stacey Donalan, a public relations graduate, was at Cain and Abel's Saturday afternoon and said she would be returning to the bar before the main commencement ceremony. Donalan said she came to Cain and Abel's with her mother, aunt and friends Friday night to celebrate.

Donalan said she will toast to her four years at UT, but not to the memories at Cain and Abel's.

"I don't have any memories, I got too drunk," she said.