Harden’s commencement farewell has big finish

Alec Brown of Winona, Minn., a Business Administration graduate, had the distinction of being on the receiving end of what Tom Harden says was the final diploma presentation and congratulatory handshake of his career as a university chancellor.

Brown was last in line when UW-Green Bay May 2014 commencement wrapped up at the Kress Events Center early Saturday afternoon. About 635 of the nearly 900 students eligible to graduate took part in the ceremony.

Harden is stepping down this summer after five years as UW-Green Bay chancellor. He spent the previous nine years as president of Clayton State University in suburban Atlanta.

“In 14 years, I’ve presided at 28 commencement ceremonies,” Harden said before the ceremony. “I think I shook the hands of between 35,000 and 40,000 graduates.”

How the towering Brown happened to be the last person to cross the stage to receive his degree Saturday involves a bit of a story. It was a tall order to get him to the ceremony at all.

A pro basketball prospect who spent most of the week at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Brown was still at or near O’Hare when his fellow grads were taking their places and the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” were heard at the Kress shortly after 11 a.m.. His family picked him up at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport and rushed him to campus.

Had he been present at the start of the ceremony, he would have processed in and, when called upon, crossed the stage with his fellow graduates of Business Administration. By alphabetical order of majors, Business awards its diplomas early in the program. He arrived after the Business degrees had been handed out but before the final majors — Theatre, and Urban and Regional Studies — had been called forward to accept their diplomas as part of the two-hour ceremony. So he took the last seat in the last row of chairs on the nearly filled Kress Center Floor.

Brown was one of the top 60 collegiate basketball players in America taking part in the invitation-only combine. A sharp-shooting center who led this year’s Phoenix team to a 24-7 record and NIT bid, he was a first-team Horizon League selection and a nationally ranked shot blocker named Horizon Defensive Player of the Year.

Not only was Brown the final graduating senior to cross the stage Saturday, he was also by far the tallest — of this or any commencement in UW-Green Bay’s nearly 50-year history. He was measured at 7-1 earlier in the week at the draft combine, where prospects interview with and work out for NBA coaches and executives.

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