In the 30 years that the University Book Store has provided graduation gowns to UW-Madison’s commencement speakers, company president Pat McGowan cannot recall needing to order a custom-size gown.
Speakers from Katie Couric to Arne Duncan borrowed a gown in their size and returned it after the ceremony.
Enter J.J. Watt, who is scheduled to speak to the Class of 2019 at Camp Randall Stadium next week.
The Houston Texans defensive end and former Badger required a special order.
Not because he was too tall. The company that University Book Store orders gowns from, Herff Jones, manufactures gowns to accommodate people who are 6 feet, 5 inches tall, like Watt.
“It’s the shoulders,” McGowan said in describing Watt’s build. “I think this thing is big enough to fit Bucky Badger.”
UW-Madison officials provided Herff Jones with Watt’s measurements.
“We knew that a standard gown would likely be ill-fitting so we worked with J.J. to secure his suit measurements,” university spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said.
The custom-ordered gown arrived Tuesday at University Book Store, McGowan said.
“We want him to look good up there on stage,” McGowan said.
Not so fast
Another quirk Watt brings as commencement speaker: He had originally planned to wing his speech, according to ESPN.
University officials asked Watt last month for a copy of his speech to upload onto the teleprompter. He told them to give him a black screen and signal when to stop talking.
“That was literally my plan,” he told ESPN. “I mean, I have some messages I want to say. I have some things I want to get across. But let’s be honest: They just want to go drink beer afterwards. They’re excited. I know how commencements go. They just want the person to give a cool message for about five minutes, and then get off the stage.”
McGlone said commencement speakers are encouraged to share a working draft of their remarks, though the content is up to the speaker. Some edit their speeches up until delivery or even ad lib during the address.
‘From my heart’
On a Wisconsin Alumni Foundation podcast episode posted Thursday, Watt elaborated on his speech-giving style: “The most natural and real way for me to get my message across is to just speak. At the end of the day, I want the students and I want the people in attendance to know this is coming from me, this is coming from my heart, these are things that I think are important.”
Watt played football for the Wisconsin Badgers his sophomore and junior years before being drafted in 2011, so he did not face the graduation gown question then.
One of the perks of having a set of shoulders that surpasses average width? Custom-size gowns cannot be returned.
“If Watt wants to keep it, he can,” McGowan said.