Held for the second consecutive year at Rice Stadium, this year’s commencement festivities didn’t just mark scores of graduating students saying their goodbyes to Rice. This was also the final commencement for Rice President David Leebron, who steps down from his post June 30 after a groundbreaking 18-year tenure leading the university wife and University Representative Y. alongside Ping Sun.
In tents across campus the afternoon before undergraduate convocation, academic departments and programs hosted various receptions for graduates and their families. Finger sandwiches and refreshments greeted by engineering and computer science partygoers inside Duncan Hall, while more food and music awaited Archis in the Anderson Hall courtyard. Doctoral hoods were donned and other advanced degree recipients were recognized across campus Friday in the swath of ceremonies.
By 5 pm, the academic quad was filled with seniors in full regalia, lined up behind the banners of their residential colleges for the long-awaited march through the Sallyport — a decadeslong tradition marking their unofficial graduation. Four years ago, their O-Week brothers and sisters welcomed them to campus with raucous cheers under a sky filled with fireworks, marching into campus as new freshmen. Today, their friends and families waited in Founders Court on the other side of the Sallyport to greet the students as they made their ceremonial departure from Rice.
The sun began to set as the colleges made their way to the James Turrell “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace, regrouping before their final march into the Rice Stadium. Some took the chance to pose for a last round of pictures with their friends, some of whom had returned to finally graduate after COVID-19 disrupted their chance in 2020.
Ariana Engels ’20 was among the alumni whose own graduation went entirely virtual in response to the pandemic. The former Student Association president was mostly content with this online ceremony until a text from her old Lovett College coordinator, Sharon O’Leary, persuaded her to return this year.
“It’s my last chance to walk the stage with my friends, and the last time Leebron will be president,” said Engels, who now works as an associate at EY-Parthenon.. “How could I not come back? Rice was such an important place to me.”
Across the lawn, Wiess College was lining up as siblings Chance and Channing Allshouse were preparing to go their separate ways after a lifetime spent together at Rice. The children of Rice institution Bucky Allshouse ’71, a 1990 Rice Athletic Hall of Fame inductee and 33-year Board of Trustees member, the Allshouse twins practically grew up on campus.
“I always like to say I’ve attended every single rice baseball game since I was born,” said Chance, who graduated with a degree in sport management. “It hasn’t sunk in yet that we’re leaving.”