Hasselmo hosts his final graduation celebration

Chris Hamilton

Recent graduates and their families and friends sipped lemonade and munched on mini-muffins Saturday while checking out the outdoor sculptures and gardens lining Eastcliff, the University’s presidential mansion.
Almost 700 people attended Saturday’s annual graduation celebration held by the outgoing University President Nils Hasselmo and his wife, Pat. The event began in 1991 and is held in both December and June as a way to make the University, which graduates more than 10,000 students each year, seem smaller.
“We just thought that the University is so big and everybody had the feeling that it is so large that we were trying to think of ways to make it seem more intimate and personal,” Pat Hasselmo said.
The attendees lounged under a large tent, and one father gently pushed his young daughter on a swing. A large line formed to shake hands, speak with and snap pictures of the president and his wife.
“I just enjoy these relatively leisurely circumstances,” Nils Hasselmo said. “It gives me a chance to chat with students and their parents.
“We wanted to try to create a sense of community here at the University. And one way we try to do that is by inviting graduates and their families to come to see Eastcliff and have a little celebration.”
Several retired alumni gave brief, main-level tours of the building that has housed University presidents since 1958. The guides pointed out that the ratty, chipped exterior is because of a water-washing in preparation for painting next week.
Inside, the 21-room home is brightly lit by large floor-to-ceiling windows. The white walls are filled with numerous original works of art. Out on the 2 « acre grounds of Eastcliff, there is a tennis-basketball court, a swimming pool and a pool house.
Lance Bagge, who graduated with a degree in architecture, came to the reception to explore the expansive grounds of Eastcliff.
“I wanted to see how the other half lives,” said Bagge. “It seems more like a museum than a house.”
Others came for different reasons. Bethany Kauffman said it was a reward for her husband Lauren, who received his degree in computer science while working full time and attending night school.
“For me, this is one more way to celebrate after watching him work so hard,” she said.
Della Derscheid, a nursing school masters graduate, took advantage of the breezy, warm day by lying in the shade with a friend while enjoying the four-piece jazz ensemble playing on the Hasselmo’s lawn.
“I really just wanted to relax to the music, celebrate my big finish and enjoy good company,” said Derscheid. “I wanted to treat myself.”
Mark Anderson, who received his degree in history and Native American studies, came with his family looking for some freebies.
“I came out because I figure I paid enough to the U to go to anything that is free,” said Anderson, while pointing out the free lemonade.
While the graduates and the Hasselmos relaxed together, the departing president, who moves out of the Mississippi River mansion on June 30, said he had mixed emotions.
“I have a little twinge of nostalgia,” he said. “I have a little twinge of sadness that this is the last time that I will be doing it, because it has been very enjoyable.”