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Weather will not alter ECU commencement plans

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Cathleen and Charlie Ferns begin the move out process as they wheel their son Conor's belongings to their car for a family vacation Thursday, May 4, 2017.


Michael Abramowitz

Friday, May 5, 2017

A forecast of heavy rain and strong winds did not deter East Carolina University officials from today’s plans for the 2017 spring commencement ceremonies, scheduled for 9 a.m. at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

UNC system President Margaret Spellings will present the keynote commencement address, but might not have all 5,542 graduating seniors in attendance if the rain, forecast to begin late Thursday and continue through today, hampers attendance. ECU will confer 3,980 bachelor degree candidates and 1,295 graduate degree candidates, university officials said. 

Traffic into and around the university athletics complex is likely to be affected by the weather, ECU Police Lt. Chris Sutton said Thursday at a media briefing at the stadium. City roads certain to be affected include Charles Boulevard, 10th and 14th streets, Greenville Boulevard, Elm Street and all other roads around the stadium area, Sutton said.

People traveling to and from work between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. likely will be affected by graduation traffic, he said.

“We’ve encouraged people to plan ahead and choose an alternate route,” Sutton said. “If they normally travel on Greenville Boulevard, for example, they should consider taking Red Banks Road or go down Fifth Street to avoid getting trapped in the traffic.” 

The officer advised people coming to the stadium to start no later than 7:30 a.m. to arrive in time for the 9 a.m. start. He predicted the ceremonies to conclude between 11:30 a.m. and noon, but traffic headaches could continue because individual schools, colleges and departments throughout the campus will be conducting ceremonies Friday through Saturday.

The Health Sciences campus, located between Stantonsburg Road and West Fifth Street, also will be hosting several events, likely causing traffic issues in that area as well, Sutton said.

All parking areas in the athletics complex, including at Dowdy-Ficklen, Minges Coliseum and Clark-LeClair baseball stadium lots, will be open and monitored by traffic officers beginning at 7 a.m.

“With the weather we’re expecting, the crowd size might not be as large as planned, but we’re prepared if need be,” Sutton said. “Public safety will our top priority. If lightning occurs nearby or presents a threat, it could impact the ceremonies, but we’ve dealt with that before for football games, and we have an evacuation plan ready just as we do for the games.”

Security plans will be the same as those used during football games, but umbrellas will be allowed in the stadium, Sutton said. There also will be ample ADA-accessible parking for disabled visitors and golf cart shuttle service to the stadium for those people if needed, he said. 

Most graduates and their families will have ceremony options other than the main event at Dowdy-Ficklen. A complete listing of colleges, schools and departments that will hold individual unit recognition ceremonies can be found online at www.ecu.edu/commencement.

Mackenzie Brown, a public health major from Charlotte, has altered her plans due to the weather forecast.

“I talked with my mother about it, and we both agreed that we’d rather not be drenched the whole morning,” Brown said. “If it does rain, we’ll skip the ceremony at Dowdy-Ficklen and go to my school’s ceremony Saturday night.”

Sarah Rosenfeld, a social work major from Ashburn, Va., was busy Thursday moving her belongings out of her home on Holly Street. Her plans were the same as Brown’s.

“My parents will probably prefer to stay in tomorrow morning and go to my indoor ceremonies on Saturday,” Rosenfeld said.  

Emily Buddo, an education major from Raleigh, likely will be at Dowdy-Ficklen despite the forecast, but her graduation will include other family members.

“My uncle works at ECU, and his daughter also is graduating with her master’s. He has to go, so we’ll probably all be there and support each other,” Buddo said.

Not all students leaving campus this weekend will face the same challenges as the graduates. Cathleen and Charlie Ferns of Lebanon, N.J. arrived on campus Thursday to help their son, Conor, a freshman, move his belongings from his dormitory for the summer. The Fernses have other plans for the weekend.

“We’re heading to Hilton Head in South Carolina, then we plan to tour Florida and maybe some other states in the South before heading home for the summer,” Cathleen Ferns said.

“It’s been a good freshman year for Conor,” Charlie Ferns said. “We definitely got our money’s worth from ECU.”

For those families not in a hurry, there will be plenty to do and see in Greenville this weekend before heading home. Restaurants and shopping plazas throughout the city are ready to serve grads and their families, and the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce will host its annual Business Expo today at the Greenville Convention Center.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.