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Things to know about Graduation Weekend

Key details about Northwestern events, tickets, transportation and more
graduation weekend 2024
Commencement is at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 9, at the United Center in Chicago. Photo by Joel Wintermantle

We’re only a few days away, and all those participating in Northwestern University’s 166th annual commencement are busy making family arrangements, securing tickets and trying on regalia.

The big event is at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 9, at the United Center in Chicago. But there’s much more to graduation weekend, and we know you have questions, so Northwestern Now has curated answers to a set of FAQs. Take a look below, or visit the University’s official graduation website for even more information.

Celebrations, convocation, commencement: What’s the difference?

Celebrations are events surrounding commencement and convocations that highlight aspects of graduates’ Northwestern experience.

Convocations are hosted by schools to recognize students individually. Each school has invited a guest speaker to address graduates. See the complete schedule here.

Commencement is the all-Northwestern ceremony where the entire graduating class of 2024 is honored. During the ceremony, University officials, as well as student, faculty and guest speakers, will address graduates and their families. This year, award-winning actress and alum Kathryn Hahn will deliver the main commencement address.

How do we get there? And where do we park?

Evanston campus parking is free from Friday, June 7, through Monday, June 10. Parking in the lots next to the United Center will be free for the ceremony, and the Uber/Lyft lot at the United Center will be open.

For graduates and guests looking for a ride, shuttles will leave from a single point on the Evanston campus and drop off at the main gate on the south side of the United Center at parking lot K.

Refer to the transportation page on the graduation website for maps and other specifics.

What items are permitted in the United Center?

At on-campus venues and the United Center, guests are limited to a small purse or personal bag up to 10"x6"x2". No backpacks or other large bags are allowed. At all venues, bags will be inspected by security personnel, and guests will pass through magnetometers.

At all venues, prohibited items include air horns or any other artificial noise makers, including instruments; animals (excluding service animals); balloons; banners; bottles or cans; cameras with detachable lenses; confetti of any kind; coolers; ski or non-medical masks (medical masks are permitted); fireworks; flags; flyers and handouts; glitter; laser pens or laser products of any type; outside food or beverage of any kind (alcoholic beverages included); poles or sticks; projectiles; selfie sticks; signs; tents; umbrellas (any size); weapons of any kind, including guns, knives, ammunition, explosives, pepper spray and mace; and anything else that would interfere with guests’ sight lines or enjoyment of the ceremony.

The United Center has additional restrictions prohibiting GoPros, iPads, laptops and plastic bags, and it reserves the right to determine other items unacceptable upon entry. Further, the United Center will not store any of the aforementioned items.

For which events do we need tickets? Once we have them, how do we distribute?

Tickets are necessary for guests at all ceremonies, including commencement and convocations, although graduates do not need a ticket. You can distribute tickets to guests by text or by downloading and sending a PDF. (This function only works for U.S. and Canadian numbers.) If you have guests who are not tech-savvy or who do not have smartphones, you also can print or send those tickets to others in your party to hold, but those guests must enter together.

Visit the Tickets page for instructions on key ticketing actions.

For those who do not have tickets, livestreams will be available for commencement and convocations on the Graduation website.

What if our party has questions about accessibility?

Everyone will enter a ceremony on a general admission ticket. Northwestern collected anticipated wheelchair numbers during the ordering process, but all seating is first come, first served. Please note that every wheelchair space has one companion seat included. Because these spaces are limited and in high demand, it is not possible to seat entire parties together. There are a limited number of wheelchairs inside of each venue that can be used for transporting guests during the ceremony. Visit the Accessibility page on the Graduation website for more information.

Is there a University policy in the case of demonstrations?

While the University supports freedom of expression, graduation ceremonies are not the time nor place for disruptive demonstrations. The University has designated a free speech area outside each venue and encourages anyone who wishes to engage in expressive activity to do so there. Any such activity inside the venue may not disrupt the ceremony or prevent others from enjoying it.

Community members who do not adhere to University policies will face discipline, and anyone who disrupts the ceremony could be asked to leave. All students, including those graduating, remain subject to the Student Code of Conduct. Violations of the code of conduct will result in disciplinary sanctions up to and including expulsion. Degrees will be held pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings.

Can we get a copy of the commencement program?

You can download the PDF of the program. An initial program will be available at the time of Graduation Weekend, and a complete program including Latin honors will be available later in summer. A small number of final program print copies will be available, with the ordering link coming in June graduation communications.

Can grads take photos at the Michael Jordan statue?

Yes, graduates will be lining up in the United Center Atrium, located on the east side of the stadium, which houses the world-famous statue.

What’s happening on campus after the commencement ceremony?

Commencement will conclude shortly after noon on Sunday, June 9. But there’s plenty more to see and do, so plan on getting yourself and your guests back to Evanston as soon as possible.

Hosted by Religious & Spiritual Life, Baccalaureate is a multifaith and multicultural celebration that honors a diversity of spiritualities, philosophies and cultures at Northwestern. The event, which begins at 4 p.m. at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, does not require tickets.

Just as March Through the Arch was a symbolic start to graduates’ Northwestern career, March Back Through the Arch is the bookend. Undergraduates should meet at 6 p.m. at Deering Meadow to march the reverse of the original path with friends and classmates.

All graduates and their guests are welcome for a picnic-style dinner at 7 p.m. at the Graduating Students Reception. Enter near the north entrance to the lakeside campus, enjoy the food and drink and stick around for a fireworks show over Lake Michigan that is expected to start at approximately 8:45 pm. This free event does not require tickets or advance reservations.