WCU community rallies for successful graduation ceremony

Fall 2014 had to be moved outside because of the bomb threat. Photo by Hunter Bryn.

Fall 2014 had to be moved outside because of the bomb threat. Photo by Hunter Bryn.

Thousands of families piled into Western Carolina University on Saturday, Dec. 13, for the fall graduation ceremony that didn’t go quite as planned.

As the clock struck 1 p.m., attendants in the Liston B. Ramsey center were not greeted with a warm welcome to the ceremony, but with instruction to evacuate the building.

Chancellor David Belcher made the announcement saying that there had been a threat made to the facility. He said even though they were 100 percent sure it was a hoax, the facility had to be evacuated for everyone’s safety.

According to the WCU website, the WCU Police Department and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office are coordinating an investigation into the incident.

Bill Studenc, WCU’s director of news services, said that between 6,500 and 7,000 people including about 650 graduates were evacuated to the E. J. Whitmire stadium.

After about 40 minutes WCU officials made an announcement that the commencement ceremony would be moved to the stadium.

The ceremony began around 2:30 p.m. with an opening remark by Roger Aiken, a member of the UNC Board of Governors.

“It was an exciting day, but what was even more exciting was to watch the staff here at Western put together a graduation in less than hour and a half on a football field and for it to work,”Don Connelly, the WCU communication department head and member of the commencement committee, said.

Attendants were in good spirits throughout the ceremony and there was an unexplainable feeling of ease in the atmosphere.

“Western Carolina University did a great job today showing that we’re prepared for any type of situation that could happen because we pulled this off and it was great,” said WCU student Sarah Clark.

Chancellor Belcher said he was very proud of the graduates, faculty and students who made this graduation ceremony happen.