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At University of Wisconsin-Stout, a less formal but equally joyous ritual has taken place on the big day for more than 25 years — the Graduation Buffet.
This year was no different as about 300 happy graduates, family members and friends filled the Great Hall in the Memorial Student Center, one block from Johnson Fieldhouse where commencement is held.
The buffet ran between the Saturday, Dec. 14, morning and afternoon ceremonies, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Diners began arriving soon after the morning ceremony ended, even though an informal reception with snacks was held immediately after the ceremony in the Sports and Fitness Center.
Diplomas were in hand, mortarboards were off and the food was on.
The menu included pork loin, baked ziti, herb-roasted chicken, several salads, vegetable medley, mashed potatoes, stuffing, breads and, for dessert, apple crisp with whipped topping. Tickets were $12.50 in advance.
"Many families share their thanks for offering this. It simplifies their planning and makes the day very special for the graduate," said Ann Thies, director of University Dining Services.
The Great Hall was transformed into a warm space on a snowy December day with white linen tablecloths, poinsettias, Christmas trees and music. The names of graduates attending the buffet scrolled by on two large screens.
Guests were greeted by a 300-pound block of ice carved into an "S" by Executive Chef David Leach, who began creating it at 6 a.m.
Diners with reserved tables were ushered to their seats by the wait staff, dressed in black.
In addition to the meal, parents and students could preorder personalized cakes trimmed in the school colors — blue and white — and purchase wine and champagne.
Among those enjoying the buffet were Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen, the commencement speaker, and other university officials, who then returned to Johnson Fieldhouse for the afternoon ceremony.
Two buffets typically are held in May, when more students graduate.
Since the student center opened in 1985, the buffet has been held every commencement day except 2011 and 2012, when the building was closed for renovation.
University Dining Services is a self-contained UW-Stout operation, one of five in the UW System. In addition to operating the student dining halls and restaurants on campus, it has a catering service for special events on and off campus, such as the Graduation Buffet, banquets, receptions and conferences.
University Dining Services has 38 professional staff members and more than 400 part-time student employees.
The staff was back in action Saturday night when 450 people attended the WestConsin Credit Union Christmas party in the Great Hall; the party included live music by The Dweebs.
The student center also was busy Saturday with an officer commissioning ceremony for the Army ROTC program and a Christmas for Kids event sponsored by Cardinal Glass of Menomonie.