Pomp and bad circumstances: EKU graduates, attendees brave heat during commencement

·5 min read

May 17—Several graduates and attendees of Eastern Kentucky University's 2022 commencement ceremonies had to receive medical treatment during and after the university's commencement ceremonies due to heat-related causes on Friday.

Roy Kidd Stadium hosted more than 2,000 graduates and their families across two commencement ceremonies on Friday — the first time the university held two graduations on the same day. Usually, the ceremonies occur over a two-day period.

The first ceremony began at 10 a.m. and honored graduates from EKU's College of Business, College of Education and Applied Human Sciences, and the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences. Three hours later, a second ceremony focused on the College of Health Sciences, the College of Justice, Safety, & Military Science, and the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

According to the Eastern Progress, the first ceremony of the day was delayed due to the lack of chairs on the field for the first ceremony. A 30-minute delay occurred as faculty members were asked to move to the visitor's side of the football field.

"Eastern Kentucky University hosted over 25,000 students, faculty, staff, and visitors for the 2022 spring commencement. While roughly 550 students confirmed to attend each graduation ceremony, we were pleased that an additional 300 made the day of decision to attend the ceremony. While this created a seating challenge, this was quickly remedied. We are pleased we could ensure that every graduate that wanted to participate had the opportunity to walk across the stage to receive their diploma," said EKU Public Relations Director Sarah Baker.

Heat caused issues for some in attendance, as the temperature steadily increased throughout the day— eventually topping off at 86 degrees.

According to the Progress, some graduates and EKU faculty had to leave the field during the ceremonies to cool off with the help of ice packs and water bottles provided by EKU staff.

One graduate collapsed on the field and was carried off into an ambulance on a stretcher. According to Madison County EMS, two people were transported from the stadium for medical treatment on Friday.

"In addition, the weather is often a concern with outdoor events. Friday's heat did require additional resources for guests. We appreciate the hard work of the EKU Facilities team that moved into action to bring an additional 10,000 bottles of water to Roy Kidd Stadium and our Aramark partner for opening up additional concession options for guests," Baker said. "By the end of both ceremonies, there were three transports to Baptist Health Hospital treating a variety of medical conditions. In addition, as with all large events, guests needing assistance received basic first aid assistance provided by Madison County EMS."

Emily Hayes, a graduate of the College of Business, felt the ceremony was mismanaged.

"It was frustrating for a lot of different reasons, but it started with the delays and lack of canopies in the area where the graduates met up before walking to get seated," Hayes recalled. "They had us standing in the sun forever in the parking lot, so it was hot of course."

Hayes described the ceremony as "miserable."

"The (university) did not consider the weather at all... They did bring water, eventually, but ran out almost immediately. I honestly don't remember most of the ceremony until I walked because I was thinking about how hot I was... My legs were covered in dark stockings and they still were sunburned. Just very much not worth the $50,000 I paid for my degree," Hayes said.

Austin Cunliffe attended the ceremony alongside several family members to celebrate the graduation of his partner — who is 33 weeks pregnant. He said the ceremony was a difficult one, and he worries about the safety of his partner and their unborn child. His partner was forced to take shelter under the bleachers because of the oppressive heat.

"What happens when the baby gets too hot? They can't cool down on their own. Even if mom has cooled down; the baby has not," Cunliffe said of his worries during the graduation ceremonies.

"Everyone is good and safe now. We can breathe, but we won't know the full effect until she's here and we know if she's healthy or not," Cunliffe added.

Like several others, Cunliffe was forced to park on the side of Eastern Bypass for the event after dropping his partner off. He questioned why the university did not hold the event in a temperature-controlled environment like Alumni Coliseum.

"My biggest question is what was wrong with Alumni Coliseum, a controlled environment where everybody is safe... This feels like a lot of it could have been avoided... You don't have to worry about make up dates if it rains. You don't have to worry about the heat. It's May in Kentucky, it could be 55 degrees and windy and miserably cold. It could be a lot of things. Why not take those elements and what ifs out of the question and do it in a controlled environment," Cunliffe said.

Cunliffe said holding the ceremony outdoors due to COVID-19 concerns is not a valid excuse, as the mask mandate has been lifted at the school.

"I understand that they're not really aware of how the day is going to unfold, but you have to plan for that. You have to be prepared and prepare for however many thousands of people are gonna be there and all the variables that come for that," Cunliffe said. "To my knowledge, no one in the school sent out an email saying 'Hey, is there anyone with pre-existing conditions, is there anything we need to be aware of, does anyone need accommodations?' It was just 'This is the way we're doing it and if you wanna walk, these are the rules you'll go by.' "

According to Baker, the university is debriefing on the events of the day and will make appropriate recommendations as they plan for future outdoor commencement ceremonies.