Walking the Grad Walk

In this circumstance, nobody seems to be missing the pomp.

More than 400 spring graduates are taking advantage of the Grad Walk, a unique idea put in place to give graduating students a feel for the traditional graduation ceremony, as commencement is again a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking place in the Student Union Ballroom, this three-day event (ending Wednesday, May 5) is nonetheless a distillation of sorts, a potent blast of the more emotional aspects of graduating.

Rather than a band playing “Pomp and Circumstance,” there’s acoustic guitar music overhead. Rather than a mass gathering, there are a few families at a time, all practicing safe distancing. Rather than guest speakers, there are guests of the graduates.

Graduating student Alyson Storjohann awaits to be introduced by announcer Dwayne Magaw at Tuesday morning’s Grad Walk event.

And here’s the main thing: Rather than crowds, there’s a closeness, a personal touch. Each student and their small entourage pose at various photo stations around the ballroom, from solo shots to goofy group selfies.

Eventually the student makes their way to the side of the stage where the announcer (either Dwayne Magaw or Karen Wright from the University radio station KMSU) read their name over the booming PA system. The student walks onto and across the stage, grabs their diploma and stands for photos from the family paparazzi.

One of several photo stations in the ballroom. Connor Welle with father John and mother Shannon of Big Lake.

Shannon and John Welle made the two-hour drive from Big Lake, Minn. to watch their son Connor take the walk Tuesday morning. Like other small groups during the time slot, they grabbed photos beforehand and, when the time came, were front and center on the ballroom floor to get shots of Connor mid-stage.

It was over in less than a minute. And nobody was complaining.

“I kind of like it,” Shannon said afterward. “It’s personalized.”

“I enjoyed it,” John said. “It’s nice, fast, easy. But at the same time you get what you want out of it. You don’t feel like a number.”

Then family cheering section for graduate Connor Welle, front and center for Connor’s Grad Walk.

Connor’s girlfriend, Maddie McCauley, joined the family in the short ceremony. Also a graduating Maverick, McCauley had a similar specialized, short ceremony the week before in her communications department. “My dad got to take all the pictures he wanted. He loved it,” she said.

The four talked about the absence of long speeches and not having to navigate a large crowd on the way out as extra touches.

“There are advantages,” John said.

“The goal is to honor our graduates in a way that we haven’t been able to because of the COVID restrictions,” said event coordinator Taylor Schmahl, director of communications and events for academic affairs.

Grad Walk Coordinator Taylor Schmahl and announcer Dwayne Magaw.

“We wanted them to have the opportunity to have their name read like in a traditional ceremony,” she added. “This walk allows them to do that. They get a walk across the stage, kind of commemorate their achievements, get their name read and have their families and guests present to cheer them on.”

Schmahl said that students were contacted by email alerting them to the opportunity. About 440 students responded along with the number of guests they‘d be bringing. That amounted to 2,200 visitors to campus over the three days.

“We’ve heard a lot of great feedback, which is great,” Schmahl said. “I think people are just excited to do something, they’re happy to be able to recognize their graduates. We haven’t been able to do this the past two semesters safely enough. So we’ve been getting good feedback, especially from parents. It means a lot to the parents.”