Nursing majors Shannon Williams, Rachel Starkey, Christyl Thurman and Haley Neff reach for the sky where Eighth Street intersects with the heart of campus.

Nursing majors Shannon Williams, Rachel Starkey, Christyl Thurman and Haley Neff reach for the sky at the Eighth Street Circle Garden.

The time it takes a graduating senior to walk across the stage at commencement is no more than a few seconds. The time it takes MU Landscape Services to prepare the campus for commencement weekend can be an entire year.

“Commencement for us is like our Super Bowl,” Director of Landscape Services and Mizzou Botanic Garden Pete Millier says. “This is an opportunity to show the parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles and other relatives that their youngster went to a really first-class school and that their education is worthwhile.”

Communication major Andrea Boyd and secondary education major Tiara Williams pose for a portrait on The Quad. Williams is a first-generation college graduate who plans to teach English in her home town of Kansas City. Both young women are Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters who will be graduating next week.

Communication major Andrea Boyd and secondary education major Tiara Williams pose for a portrait on the Quad. Williams is a first-generation college graduate who plans to teach English in her home town of Kansas City. Both young women are Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters who will be graduating next week.

Marketing major Vanessa Salomon and mass media communication major Holly Sias celebrate their pending graduation with a bottle of sparkling bubbly.

Marketing major Vanessa Salomon and communication major Holly Sias celebrate their impending graduation.

Landscape Services at Mizzou begins planning for commencement — or, as they call it, the spring display — in the preceding summer, before the fall semester starts. During this time, staff members contact plant nurseries and contractors to ensure that what is needed for the spring will be available. Come Jan. 1, many times in the midst of snow and ice removal, Landscape Services begins to prepare the grounds for its spring display, which is planted in early April.

Campus facilities employee Stephen Parker tends to the flowers on the southwest corner of The Quad.

Campus facilities employee Stephen Parker tends to the flowers on the southwest corner of the Quad during the week before commencement.

A Garden is Born

In 1980 Chancellor Barbara Uehling had the idea to unify and beautify the campus. A master planner was hired and began work on bettering the look of Mizzou. The university bought more property and developed it. Twenty years later, on Aug. 16, 1999, Chancellor Richard Wallace declared the campus a botanic garden. Since then, the university has been in good standing with the American Public Garden Association.

Becoming a botanic garden isn’t an easy feat. To stay in good standing each year, Landscape Services keeps detailed plant records, including information about where each plant came from, when it was planted and how it is taken care of. The department also has to have a signage program so visitors can identify each plant. Some signs on campus feature QR codes for visitors to go online and find more information about their favorite plants. Lastly, the Mizzou Botanic Garden must have educational programming for its visitors. The garden meets this requirement by bringing speakers to campus and partnering with academic departments.

The garden boasts more than 42,000 plants year round ranging from tulips in the spring to greenleaf holly in the winter. A summer display planted the week after commencement lasts until Homecoming. Although both displays are important, Millier says the spring display tends to steal the show.

Red and purple tulips grow steadily outside of Ellis Library on Lowry Mall.

Red and purple tulips grow steadily outside of Ellis Library on Lowry Mall.

Setting the Scene

Flowers adorn campus on the northwest corner of The Quad.

Flowers adorn campus on the northwest corner of the Quad.

In preparation for commencement, the landscape crew of four plants approximately 10,000-12,000 annual plants across Mizzou’s 1,262-acre campus. The campus-wide display takes about two weeks to complete. Particular focus is given to David R. Francis Quadrangle and Mel Carnahan Quadrangle, popular spots for graduate photos.

Film studies major Rio James takes advantage of a picturesque seen near Jesse Hall for a photo opportunity. James hopes to make music videos.

Film studies major Rio James takes advantage of a picturesque scene near Jesse Hall for a photo opportunity. James hopes to make music videos.

“It’s very important to us that [students] have those snapshots in time and can look at them and go ‘Wow, that was such a beautiful experience to go to school there,’” Millier says. “We really do care about the kids that go to school here. I’m a parent and a grandparent, and it’s almost by extension that I have 38,000 children. My team may not articulate it quite the same, but they take pride in the fact that they are part of something very special.”

Spring 2016 commencement ceremonies are held May 13-May 15, with more than 5,600 degrees granted during the weekend.