Rochester didn’t have a white Christmas this year, but if weather forecasters predictions are correct, we very well may have a white Commencement. Rochester’s traditionally wacky weather could produce one of the latest snows in the city’s history early Sunday morning. The forecast only calls for a trace of snow, but the cold, damp weather could make UR’s traditional outdoor ceremony very unpleasant.

The Sunday morning weather forecast calls for temperatures in the lows 40s, with wind, rain and early snow possible.

“Not only could it be possibly rainy and uncomfortable, but it will be really cold,” Director of Facilities Richard Pifer said.

It is important to remember that no one really knows what Mother Nature holds up her sleeve, with forecasts sometimes being the complete opposite of what the weather actually produces.

“Rochester weather is very unpredictable,” said Mary Albee, director of conference and events. “But, regardless of what the weather is, it is going to be a very beautiful ceremony.”

The debate about how the weather would affect the commencement ceremony began last Monday afternoon, when Pifer, concerned with how the wet Eastman Quad would handle 6,000 people, contacted Vice President, General Secretary and special adviser to the president Paul Burgett to discuss the situation with him.

“In my position, I have an obligation to raise the question to make sure this is the way we can do it,” he said.

Pifer had one large concern ? that the saturated ground would be very wet and muddy and would have a negative impact on the ceremony.

The debate progressed as the end of the week and weekend forecast calling for more rain and colder temperatures came more into focus. A discussion took place at the highest levels of the administration took place Tuesday ? including President Thomas Jackson and Dean of The College William Green ? to see if viable alternatives to an outdoor commencement existed.

Ideas including the Palestra, Blue Cross Arena and the Eastman Theatre were thrown around but the off-campus venues were booked and the size of any suitable indoor campus location precludes the university from having a viable on-campus rain plan. Ultimately, the decision came down to having a ceremony at all.

“We did look at an indoor site, but at a minimum any indoor site would have to have hold at least 2,700 people in the live forum, with a nearly simulcast spill-over room for the remainder of about 2,000 people,” Jackson said. “Current configurations just won’t allow us to accomplish that anywhere, so ? being unable to devise a suitable indoor solution ? we had to stick with an outdoor venue, and among outdoor venues, I think the Quad trumps everything else.”

To prepare for Sunday’s ceremony, facilities covered most of the Eastman Academic Quad with tarps on Thursday to prevent the ground from becoming any more wet. Also, they are planning to wood plank the middle and side walkways to make walking easier.

The best preparation, however, won’t be from any UR official ? it will occur if commencement participants and spectators come prepared for the event.

“They need to dress for the weather,” Albee said, suggesting people dress warmly, wear jackets and bring umbrellas.

There will be limited space made available for guests who need to go inside to get warm, Albee said.

Four locations ? Hoyt Hall, Morey 321, Dewey 1-101 and Gleasson 317 ? will be equipped with video projection screens to broadcast UR’s Webcast of commencement.

Planners hope everyone doesn’t forget the big picture if the weather turns foul.

“It is a day to be celebrated,” Pifer said. “A day that is extremely important to students, parents and the university community and we’re not going to let a little bad weather cheat them out of that.”

For up-to-date information on the weather and this year’s commencement, check online at or call 275-6000.

Hildebrandt can be reached at

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