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Commencement to feature more pomp and circumstance

Andrew and Denise KoehlerAs high school classmates in Keller, Andrew and Denise Koehler, right, didn’t know then that UNT would factor big in their future.

The acquaintances went their separate ways after high school but reconnected in 2012 and realized that they were both attending UNT — Andrew was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and Denise was earning a doctorate in audiology. Love grew over meals and study sessions. They sealed their love by getting married this spring at UNT — holding their ceremony at the Goolsby Chapel and their reception in the Business Leadership Building atrium.

But the story doesn’t end there. Andrew and Denise have another UNT milestone to experience. They are both graduating this month in the Class of 2015, the first class to participate in UNT’s new commencement tradition — a University-wide Commencement for all graduates in the 2014-15 academic year with more pomp and circumstance than ever before. The commencement is at 8 p.m. May 16, at the UNT Coliseum and features Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as the keynote speaker, degree conferral, and fanfare and celebrations to honor the transformation from UNT graduate to alum. The new commencement kicks off the new annual tradition and kick-starts UNT’s year-long 125th anniversary celebration.

  • Update May 14: Due to severe weather forecast for May 16, the university-wide commencement has been moved from Apogee Stadium to the UNT Coliseum. Learn more.

For the Koehlers, it’s the perfect way to celebrate the start of a new life together — as a married couple and UNT graduates.

“The university-wide commencement lets us celebrate graduation together,” Andrew says. “It’s really special because we just brought our families together and now we can be together as graduates on the field.”

commencement regaliaNew commencement traditions

The new commencement format means that every May, graduates will celebrate with the larger UNT community as the university’s graduating class for that academic year. An estimated 8,290 students graduated from UNT/are expected to graduate in 2014-15.

The new format also includes undergraduate college recognition ceremonies on Friday and Saturday of the same weekend and a doctoral and master’s convocation with doctoral and masters of fine arts hooding on May 15. These more intimate ceremonies preserve the traditional moments of graduation — being individually recognized and walking the stage — without replicating the features of the university-wide commencement. Graduates will wear their regalia for all graduation events.

The Spring 2015 college recognition ceremonies will be held May 15, and May 16, ending by 4 p.m. May 16 to give graduates and their families time to prepare to attend the university-wide commencement. 

The Koehlers are excited to attend both the university-wide commencement and their individual recognition ceremonies.

“I don’t want to miss anything that I’ve put so much work into and I’ll take as much recognition as they are going to give,” Andrew Koehler says. “It’s important for UNT — as a large school that’s moving forward — to switch to this new format. It’s good to have a recognized speaker and the community as a whole will see all of the graduates and all of our smiling faces at once.”

An inspirational sendoff

President Neal Smatresk says the new format gives UNT’s annual graduating class a sendoff full of inspiration, pride and memories. He wants graduation to mark the beginning of a lifelong affiliation with UNT as alumni, not the end of their connection to UNT.

“Graduation is a defining moment for students because it’s when they start wearing the mantle of college graduate — and all that it means. We wanted commencement to truly reflect how momentous this milestone is for our students and for their families and friends who share in their pride and achievement,” Smatresk says. “I hope the new University-wide Commencement will foster a new level of pride and engagement as our graduates transition to alumni.”

Smatresk says it’s a coup to have Gov. Abbott as UNT’s inaugural commencement speaker.

“I can think of no one better to celebrate the accomplishments of our students and help UNT celebrate our 125 years of educational excellence and service to the state of Texas,” Smatresk says. “I know Gov. Abbott’s message of hope and inspiration will leave a lasting impression on the Class of 2015.”

New format going forward

Creating a grand scale commencement is as much about practicality as it is about fanfare. With 36,000 students and 7,500 graduates a year, the university’s go-to commencement venue, the Coliseum, was running out of space to continue in the same format. Prior to this change, UNT held several general commencement ceremonies throughout graduation weekend.

Now, with a university-wide commencement, all graduates of the current academic year will gather together in May. Spring commencement events will be held the same weekend to help graduates and their families plan their attendance and schedules.

College recognition ceremonies will be held every May and December. The December recognition ceremonies also will feature degree conferral so that all December graduates are formally recognized at that time. In December, master’s and doctoral graduates will be recognized during their college’s recognition ceremony. Doctoral and master of fine arts students will be hooded during these ceremonies.

All December graduates are encouraged to return for the spring university-wide commencement following their graduation to celebrate with the larger community.

The university will no longer hold an August commencement. Those who earn their degree in the summer will be recognized in December ceremonies, unless otherwise approved. Those who participate in May recognition ceremonies can participate in the spring university-wide commencement at that same time. Those who participate in December recognition ceremonies can participate in the following spring university-wide commencement.

“We realize that attending two graduation events means more planning and logistics for graduates and their families, and we’ll do our best to make it seamless,” says Finley Graves, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Students spent years working hard, putting their nose to the grindstone and making sacrifices to get to this point. So did their families. They deserve every bit of fanfare and honor we can give them.”

The new format combines the best of both worlds — celebrations as a singular community and more personal celebrations, Smatresk says.  

“I can’t wait to see Apogee full of thousands of proud graduates, families, and faculty and staff members — we’re expecting 25,000 people for commencement,” Smatresk says. “With the new university-wide commencement, we will be together as a UNT community to celebrate the special moment when our students become college graduates.”

Denise Koehler, who is looking forward to sharing the experience with her fellow graduate and husband, says attending the recognition ceremonies and university-wide commencement activities will be a lot to handle in two days, but it’s worth it. 

“We don’t think it will be the last time we’ll be on campus. But this is a good way to have that one last hurrah on campus and move on to our professional lives,” she says.

Learn more about commencement:

—Ernestine Bousquet, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

Above right, Andrew and Denise Koehler show thier UNT pride on their wedding day. (courtesy photo) Above left, students model the new commencement regalia at Apogee Stadium. (Photo by Gary Payne / URCM)

Posted on: Mon 11 May 2015

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