Stanford prepares to welcome 30,000 for Commencement Weekend

Stanford grads
Stanford’s 123rd Commencement Weekend is scheduled for June 13-15.

Husband and wife philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates will share the podium as the 2014 Commencement speakers at Stanford.

Stanford’s 123rd Commencement Weekend, scheduled June 13-15, will also feature a Class Day lecture by Associate Professor of Communication Fred Turner and a Baccalaureate address by Zen Buddhist priest and poet Norman Fischer. The Class Day lecture and Baccalaureate ceremony are both on Saturday.

Stanford’s Commencement annually attracts about 30,000 people. So families are encouraged to make travel arrangements well in advance. Download the online e-program, which provides an overview in brief of the entire weekend.

Elaine Enos, executive director of the Office of Special Events and Protocol, answers questions for parents and family members about Stanford’s Commencement Weekend.

What are the most important pieces of advice you have for parents and family members coming to Commencement?

The first is to make hotel reservations as soon as possible if you have not already done so. There are a limited number of hotels in the Palo Alto area near the university. Visit the travel and lodging website for links to information about hotels throughout the Bay Area. It is very important to plan your visit in advance.

The second is to be sure to wear comfortable clothing, but especially comfortable shoes. General transportation on campus is not always available, and Stanford is a very large campus. The many events we hold during Commencement Weekend are not always in close proximity. Much of the center of campus will be closed to vehicular traffic that weekend, so you can’t count on being able to drive between events. There will be some shuttle services available, but families should be prepared to do a fair amount of walking.

Bill and Melinda Gates

What if families have a member who has difficulty walking?

If a member of your family is disabled or has mobility concerns, please be in touch with us as soon as possible. We strongly encourage you to plan in advance by visiting the Disability Resources page on our website. There is a form to request special assistance. We can also offer advice about finding wheelchair-accessible hotels, for instance.

I cannot stress this enough: Families need to plan their campus activities early and before they arrive at Stanford if they have a member with mobility challenges. We are limited in what we can do if asked to respond on the day of the events. It’s very important that families contact us and discuss their needs in advance. We’ve seen the experiences of families greatly diminished because mobility issues were so challenging for them.

Many families may find it easiest to use a wheelchair to transport a disabled family member from one location to another. For most families in general, it is simply a matter of allowing for more time. Whatever the circumstances, families should be in touch with us. I cannot stress this point enough.

What will the weather be like, and what type of apparel to you recommend?

We suggest bringing lightweight clothing for the weekend’s events since the majority of the activities will be held outdoors. Be prepared for warm if not hot weather. Temperatures during the day can range from 75 degrees to the low 90s, and the sun that time of year can be very strong. We also strongly recommend hats, visors and sun block, especially for the Commencement ceremony itself. Water will generally be available at the ceremonies, but we urge families to bring additional drinking water to have with you, especially if you will be walking around campus.

Is there any limit to the number of family members who can attend Commencement?

No. There is plenty of room in the Stanford Stadium for everyone who wants to come. No tickets are required to attend the main ceremony. However, please check with the graduate’s department, as some diploma ceremonies may have limited seating or require tickets.

Stanford's Commencement is held in Stanford Stadium.
Stanford’s Commencement is held in Stanford Stadium.

Why are there two ceremonies—the main one in the stadium and then a second, departmental ceremony somewhere else?

All graduates attend the main ceremony. The sheer number doesn’t allow for the awarding of individual diplomas. That happens at the smaller departmental diploma ceremonies, which occur right after the main ceremony. These ceremonies are located all around the campus, with the core of them in or near the Main Quad. They provide a more intimate experience for students with their families and faculty members.

The departmental diploma ceremonies are outlined in the e-program online. We recommend you download the program for use throughout the weekend. The Commencement program you will receive when you enter the stadium on Sunday also will include a map of diploma sites. There also will be information booths along your route to the diploma ceremonies, and our staff can assist you in finding your way.

How long do the two ceremonies take?

Commencement is generally less than two hours, depending on the length of the graduation speech. The length of the individual department ceremonies varies widely depending on the number of graduates to be honored. There is plenty of time to get from the Commencement ceremony to the individual diploma ceremonies.

Is food available for purchase at Commencement?

Yes, but it will be a limited menu: beverages like coffee, tea, juices and some limited breakfast pastries, hot dogs, burgers, fries and such. At Commencement, you can also purchase flowers and Stanford items from the bookstore.

Is there enough parking so that families can drive to the stadium for Commencement?

Parking is available—but limited—for the Commencement ceremony on Sunday. It’s best to plan in advance by visiting the parking and transportation website. The campus will be very crowded throughout the day. Another critical issue will be traffic congestion, particularly after the main ceremony has concluded. There will be some shuttle service, but the easiest way to get around the many events is by walking. For some families, that may not possible, so we strongly encourage planning in advance to review alternate parking lots near the diploma ceremony they plan to attend. The website contains maps with locations and parking information as well.

Stanford's Walky Walk
Stanford’s Walky Walk

How do you explain the Wacky Walk to families who have never experienced this Stanford tradition?

Instead of the processional march that one generally sees at university graduations, Stanford seniors enter the field through what’s become known as the “Wacky Walk.” It includes some walking, some running and some parading around. Students create their own events and characters on the field for about 15 minutes. The antics, often creative and funny, have become part of the Commencement tradition over the years.

For answers to more questions about Commencement, visit the Commencement website and note the “For Parents” section, call the Commencement information line at 650-725-1957 or email us at