‘Bigger and better’ Commencement to move to Francis Olympic Field

Celebration with food and entertainment will follow graduation ceremony

graduates at Francis Olympic Field
Graduates recess through the Francis Olympic Field gates on May 20. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Two big changes are coming to Commencement at Washington University in St. Louis. The annual universitywide ceremony is moving from Brookings Quadrangle to historic Francis Olympic Field. And, starting next year, Commencement will be followed by a celebration featuring lawn games, live entertainment and food from St. Louis eateries.

“Commencement at WashU will be bigger and better,” said Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. “We are excited to welcome our graduates and their family members and friends to Francis Field and hope that they will stay awhile after the ceremony to celebrate this momentous occasion.” 

Francis Olympic Field successfully hosted 11 socially distanced Commencement ceremonies this May — eight for the Class of 2021 and three for the Class of 2020. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, said Gina Tramelli, executive director of special events in University Advancement. Guests appreciated the large LED screens that broadcast live footage of the student procession into the stadium, drone shots of the ceremony and closed captioning of speaker remarks. And graduates loved the post-ceremony celebration where they picnicked with grab-and-go meals from local caterers, posed at festive photo booths and strolled through campus one last time. 

“We heard from graduates and families that it was really fun and magical to come together after the ceremony,” Tramelli said. “We hope to take that party atmosphere to another level next year with more attractions that will pull people through campus from Francis Field to Tisch Park.” 

The 2022 Commencement will begin at 9 a.m. Friday, May 20. Schools will once again host their own recognition ceremonies. 

Francis Olympic Field was the site of the first Olympiad in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest modern Olympic stadium still in active use. Formerly known simply as Francis Field, the stadium was rededicated in 2019 as Francis Olympic Field in recognition of its role in the 1904 Olympic Games. Today, Francis Olympic Field is home to the university’s football team, as well as men’s and women’s soccer, cross-country and track and field teams.

graduates at 2021 Commencement
Graduates pose in front of a 2021 sign on May 21 near Francis Olympic Field. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Michelle Gelven, director of Commencement, said Commencement was outgrowing Brookings Quadrangle. An analysis of campus fields determined that Francis Olympic Field provided the best access for production crews and the most space for guests, up to 18,000 people depending on the stage configuration. 

“Francis Olympic Field is not only among the university’s most historic sites, it also is the largest and can accommodate our growing number of graduates and their family members and friends,” Gelven said.

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