University-wide commencement canceled because of bad weather, safety concerns

Matthew Adams

Graduates and family prepared to gather in front of the Tower to celebrate the class of 2015.  Instead, bad weather and safety concerns derailed the University-wide commencement, leading to its cancellation.

Earlier in the week, the University released statements saying, rain or shine, the ceremony would still be held.  However, thunderstorms and heavy rain Saturday created too great of safety concerns for the ceremony to continue, according to UT officials.

UT Commencement 2015. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Photo Credit: Bryce Seifert | Daily Texan Staff

UT alumnus Larry Konig said he was disappointed with how the school handled the ceremony.

“I just can’t believe this happened,” Konig said. “They knew it was going to rain this weekend, and they should have rescheduled.”

University spokesperson Gary Susswein said the option of moving the ceremony to the Frank Erwin Center was not feasible because of the ongoing construction and its use for college commencement.

“It made sense to have [commencement] on the main mall and to give students the energy and opportunity of the outdoor commencement,” Susswein said. 

Susswein said he is not aware of any University-wide commencement being canceled in recent years.

Biomedical engineering graduate Kevin Gandingco said he was disappointed with the decision because of family coming at different times but realized the ceremony itself is not as important as the meaning behind it.

“It’s a disappointment right now, but looking back it was not about the ceremony,” Gandingco said.  “It was about all the hard work and the people I met and the experience at this university that made me realize what a great time I had here.”

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Because of more bad weather from a rain and tornado warning, fireworks did not go off as expected.  Susswein says the University tentatively plans to light the fireworks 10 p.m. Sunday.

An alternate ceremony was held at 8 p.m. to explain the University’s decision and to allow commencement speaker, Darren Walker, president of the corporate nonprofit Ford Foundation, to give his speech.

Keynote speaker Darren Walker graduated from the University with degrees in government, speech communications and law. He told graduates about his life, from being born in a charity hospital in Lafayette, Louisiana, to going through Ames, Texas, public schools in the Head Start program before being admitted to UT. 

Walker said his success story is best understood through the metaphor of crossing bridges. 

“You see, my mother crossed a bridge to take my sister and me into Texas,” Walker said.  “I’ll never forget crossing the bridge over the Colorado River on my first visit to Austin.  I crossed a bridge into New York, when I took my University of Texas education out into the world.” 

Walker said each bridge he crossed gave him better opportunities.

“Being a bridge is the work of a lifetime,” Walker said.  “But you’re prepared.  Privileged but poised to change the world.”  

As the ceremony came to an end, UT System Chancellor William McRaven recognized military veterans who completed their degrees or could not attend their commencement because of being drafted.  McRaven went on to recognize President William Powers Jr. with a medallion for his work and sacrifice for the University.

“In less than two weeks, Bill Powers will step down after more than nine years of service to this institution,” McRaven said.  “He is the second-longest serving president in UT history, founded two colleges and $3.1 billion were raised for the campaign for Texas  the most for any Texas institution.”

Click here to see our Storify of how students prepared for commencement and reacted to its cancellation.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information from the University's press conference on the canceled commencement ceremony.