Tens of thousands of graduates, family members, friends and faculty are slated to gather on the Lawn for the University of Virginia’s 184th Final Exercises this weekend.
The backdrop for the ceremonies will be rounded out by an unusual sight — the Rotunda’s bare copper dome — and enough complimentary cookies to serve the legions of guests on Grounds.
UVa's 11 schools will award 6,363 degrees this weekend, according to university spokesman McGregor McCance. The total includes 3,761 bachelor's degrees, 1,634 master's degrees and 509 first professional degrees.
Eighty students earned their degree in three years and two earned their degree in two years. About 900 graduates are international students.
“Final Exercises is a time of celebration for our students, their families and the entire university community,” UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan said in a statement. “UVa is fortunate to have so many great stories to tell about student successes. We also deeply appreciate the work of our faculty and staff. This weekend is a reflection of hard work by so many people and one we are looking forward to enjoying together.”
For this weekend’s festivities, McCance said UVa has prepared 22,000 petite gourmet cookies, 4,000 bakeshop cookies, 1,000 jumbo cookies, 2,500 brownies, 500 gallons of lemonade and 6,000 bottles of water.
Political satirist and TV personality Stephen Colbert is the speaker for Saturday’s Valedictory Exercises. Colbert is best known as the host of the "The Colbert Report" on cable television's Comedy Central. In 2010, Colbert also co-hosted the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear with fellow comedic commentator Jon Stewart. The rally attracted more than 200,000 people to the National Mall.
Former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, is Sunday’s graduation speaker.
“Mr. Webb very much appreciates the invitation to share in the festivities with those who are graduating from such a distinguished educational institution, and with their families,” Webb spokeswoman Amy Hogan said this week.
Weather permitting, the majority of this weekend's ceremonies are scheduled to go on outdoors. Saturday’s forecast from the National Weather Service calls for a high temperature of 75 degrees and a 40-percent chance of thunderstorms. A high of 70 degrees and a 50-percent chance of thunderstorms are forecast for Sunday.
In the event of severe, unsafe inclement weather — such as thunder, lightning or high winds — most outdoor activities will be shifted to John Paul Jones Arena. UVa officials will make the decision each morning and announce any changes online at virginia.edu and on local radio stations. Finals weekend information is also available by calling 982-2908.
For latecomers to town and procrastinators, the more immediate concern likely will be finding lodging without breaking the bank.
The Holiday Inn-University Area on Emmet Street has no rooms available from today through Sunday, according to the hotel’s online reservation page. A double-bed room at the DoubleTree, the area's largest hotel with about 235 rooms, was available late Thursday for $279 per night, according to its online reservation page.
Earlier this week on Craigslist, one poster was offering a room at the DoubleTree for today through Monday for $920.
Family and friends of future Hoo graduates should plan ahead and book early, said Matt Harris, general manager of the Boar's Head Inn.
“The Cavalier Inn accepts reservations for graduation weekends on an ongoing basis,” Harris said. “Currently, [the] Cavalier Inn has 90 percent of the guest rooms reserved for 2014 and approximately 50 percent of the guest rooms are reserved for 2015. In addition, 90 percent of the Boar’s Head accommodations are reserved for 2014 and reservations will be accepted for 2015 on June 1, 2014.”
“Graduation weekend is an amazing time for our destination; it brings thousands of UVa student family members and friends to our area, and the economic impact is huge,” said Bri Warner, spokeswoman for the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“It also means that hotel availability is scarce and guest room rates are at their highest so it makes it really difficult for non-UVa-related visitors to find accommodations or availability to dine at our fine local restaurants,” she said.
Officials are urging townies and visitors alike to employ patience and advance planning due to the anticipated influx of traffic and visitors unfamiliar with the area. Graduation usually attracts about 30,000 people to town.
To accommodate the ceremonies, McCormick Road will be closed between University Avenue and the bridge over Emmet Street from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday and from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. Sunday.
This closure also will affect the Charlottesville Area Transit free “trolley” bus.
On Sunday, the trolley will not travel to points south of Emmet Street on Jefferson Park Avenue or through Central Grounds on Alderman and McCormick roads. Instead, the westbound trolley will travel on Jefferson Park Avenue to Emmet Street South, turn right onto University Avenue and return to its regular eastbound route at the Rotunda.
The trolley detour will be in effect all day. During this time, the trolley also will serve University Transit Service stops along the detour route.
Albemarle County police spokeswoman Carter Johnson said most planning for graduation weekend is handled by the UVa Police Department. However, Johnson said nine county police officers have been asked to assist this weekend.
“These officers would work the event as an overtime assignment, so it does not impact our staffing levels and/or calls for service,” said Johnson.