Caps and gowns have been ordered, stress levels are beginning to rise ahead of finals week and students are subconsciously humming "Pomp and Circumstance": graduation is approaching at Bakersfield College. 

More than 1,200 students — the largest number yet — are expected to participate in the May 10 ceremony, according to Norma Rojas-Mora, BC's communications director. More than 2,600 students are eligible to walk in the ceremony.

On top of juggling record numbers, this year's commencement will be held at a new location. Students will walk across the stage at Rabobank Arena instead of accepting their diplomas at Memorial Stadium, where the ceremony is normally held.

The stadium is undergoing renovations, and Rabobank Arena was chosen due to the number of people it can accommodate.

"One of the big factors (that led to us choosing the arena) was the number of graduates we have," Rojas-Mora said. "We knew we needed a location to accommodate the graduates and their families."

Rabobank Arena can seat up to about 10,000 people, according to the arena.

The first phase of work on Memorial Stadium began April 1 and is estimated to be completed in August for the start of football season. The second phase will start in January 2020 and will be completed in August of that year.

Bakersfield College’s Commencement Committee, comprised of faculty, staff and administrators, has been preparing for graduation for months with the renovation schedule in mind, Michelle Pena, director of enrollment services, said in an email to The Californian.

"We have been meeting regularly to prepare for the location change, including making trips to the Rabobank Arena to do on-site visits, walk the space and plan for the ceremony to be as special as ever," she said.

Pena noted the arena "is designed for large-scale events," so there should be enough parking to accommodate the large crowd graduation draws each year. She recommends attendees arrive by 6 p.m. to secure a parking spot and make their way inside to find a seat, purchase gifts for graduates and buy concessions.

Many graduating students, such as Berenice Pimentel, a liberal arts major, are frustrated the school is choosing to prioritize the football schedule over their academic accomplishments.

"If they could have waited until football season was over, couldn't they wait until after graduation to do renovations?" Pimental asked.

"We feel like we're being excluded (from the tradition)," she added.

This will be her second time graduating at Rabobank Arena, as her East Bakersfield High School commencement ceremony was held there.

History major Kaitlin Valenti believes the special day will be lacking the fanfare she has seen at previous BC graduations, such as the fireworks normally set off at the end of the ceremony.

"I'm sad we don't get fireworks," she said. "When you see them up above it feels like such an accomplishment."

A light show has been scheduled in lieu of fireworks, Pena said. 

Despite the changes, the college believes there are still many benefits this year's ceremony will bring for graduates and guests.

"We are confident our graduates and their families will enjoy the air-conditioned venue this year," she said.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter @ema_sasic.

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