Months of meticulous planning for an outdoor graduation at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland culminated at 4 a.m. yesterday as school administrator Suzanne Shipley stood outside her Wiltondale home in a bathrobe, facing up to the one thing she couldn't control: rain.
Fortunately, Shipley, the school's vice president for academic affairs, could simply switch to a contingency plan.
Hours later, with water still covering an outdoor stage on the college's Homeland campus, Shipley was standing on an indoor one, getting ready to read the names of each of the college's nearly 650 degree recipients. Two camera operators worked the floor of the gymnasium, bringing live video of the ceremony to about 1,000 people in a nearby campus auditorium.
"The viewing is beautiful," Mel Funk said after he and his brother let out joyous yells upon seeing their sister, Michele, in a cap and gown on the big screen in LeClerc Auditorium.
The commencement ceremony, the North Baltimore school's 105th, appeared to go far more smoothly than the school's last indoor ceremonies two years ago, when many students failed to pass out tickets in advance for limited indoor seating - leaving some family members out. This time, Shipley oversaw mass distributions of e-mails and voice mails about what to do if it rained.
The payoff came yesterday at 9:35 a.m., as the first graduates began marching from a sweltering Gibbons Hall into the Marion Burk Knott Gymnasium.
"This is way cool," Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said, beginning a keynote speech focused on the importance of community service and pursuit of lofty goals. "If a black Republican can get elected lieutenant governor of this state - in Maryland - you can do anything you want."
The college awarded 345 bachelor's degrees, 279 master's degrees and 23 certificates of advanced study in education.
Class President Lesley Fields of Easton, a business major, urged classmates to remember that "the only way to achieve your purpose is to take small actions every day. In the end, they all add up."
In Westminster, McDaniel College awarded 352 bachelor's degrees and 137 master's degrees yesterday in the first commencement since the school's name was changed from Western Maryland College.
Members of the class of 2003 of the 136-year-old school were given the choice of what their diplomas read. Almost half the students chose a diploma saying they graduated from Western Maryland College.
"Just that there's half of the students wanting a McDaniel diploma tells us we're well on our way with the name change," said Peggy Fosdick, the college's director of communications.
Sun staff writer Ellie Baublitz contributed to this article.