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They didn’t walk.

But sing, polka, sway, reflect, hug, jump around to House of Pain’s iconic “Jump Around,” and celebrate, they did.

With blue skies and billowing clouds contributing to a contagious, upbeat vibe, UW-Madison held its spring commencement outside at historic Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday for the first time in a quarter-century.

“It’s hard to think about a more appropriate place to celebrate graduation,” a beaming Chancellor Rebecca Blank told a sea of graduates who covered the football field and well wishers who filled the cavernous lower bowl of the stadium and extended to the upper deck. “It feels right to be here today.”

The move to hold a single ceremony for roughly 5,400 graduates and tens of thousands of family and friends was a bold and dramatic departure from past practice, when the university hosted four events indoors.

The large numbers — the crowd was estimated at 44,000 — meant graduates didn’t get to hear their names called or have the chance to walk across the stage to get diplomas. Instead, college deans asked those receiving degrees in various disciplines of study to rise en masse to cheers and screams until all graduates were standing to a standing ovation.

The setting allowed a compact ceremony that featured a call to nonpartisan civic engagement by former Utah governor and U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman. The ceremony included a bevy of Badger sights, sounds and people-cam moments via the stadium’s massive video screens and powerful sound system.

Huntsman, the commencement speaker who served four presidents in critical assignments around the world, started his remarks by going local, noting the ice has finally melted from Lake Mendota, chairs are back out at the Memorial Union Terrace, and offers of brats and cheese curds were plentiful.

“I think I could hang around for a while around here,” he said.

The 2012 GOP presidential candidate’s primary theme, however, was displeasure with polarized, partisan politics and the “abomination” of campaign finance laws.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Huntsman, a leader of a national organization called “No Labels” devoted to consensus building to bridge the political divide. “Your generation can get us out of this mess. Your generation can save our republic.”

Senior class president Joe Meeker of Waunakee and vice president Andrew Bulovsky of Lodi reminded the crowd of special moments — three Rose Bowls, a Final Four appearance, two presidential visits — and encouraged classmates to continue striving.

“We should not be satisfied with what we have done here,” Bulovski said.

Then, Meeker noted the ceremony was about three-quarters done. The sounds of “Jump Around” rose, sending Blank, Huntsman and others on stage, graduates and much of the crowd into a cap-and-gowned bouncing frenzy akin to the end of third quarter of a Badgers football game.

The day, in fact, offered many of the scenes, albeit tamer, of a Badger Saturday. Area residents hawked parking spots in yards near the stadium. People gathered on porches but without the beer bongs. There was a line outside Mickey’s Dairy Bar.

Before the ceremony, speakers blared Camp Randall sing-along favorites including “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Build Me Up Buttercup” and “Sweet Caroline.” At its end, Michael Leckrone led the UW Marching Band as the crowd swayed to “Varsity.”

A random survey found graduates liked the ceremony and setting but had some regret about not being able to take the traditional walk across the stage. They also suggested displaying graduates’ names on the giant screen if future commencements are held there.

“I thought it was pretty good,” said Carrie Nelson of Waukesha, who earned a nursing degree. “It was pretty cool to see everyone all together.”

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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