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Some Helpful Information for Navigating JMU Commencement Weekend

JMU is expecting nearly 25,000 students, family, and guests to converge on the Harrisonburg campus for this momentous occasion! And here at the Stonewall Jackson Inn, we’re preparing for a full house and reunions with many faces we’ve gotten to know well through the college years. We love a good celebration, and graduation is a big one.

Here, a few insider tips to make your stay (and celebration) stress-free:

Undergraduate college ceremonies begin at 10am. Programs, maps, directions, and a concierge service will be available at the Information Center. If you haven’t yet, check out their easy-to-use guide to commencement on their website. And if you get in a jam, flag down one of the many volunteers – they’ll know exactly how to help you out. We’re crossing our fingers for a bright and sunny day to shine down, but on the off chance we sneezed (darn allergies) and loosened our grip, JMU is prepared with indoor locations for each ceremony. You can check those out here.

Parking lots and shuttle buses are provided – 37 buses, in fact. (That’s 296 wheels, if you’re counting.) Different lots are assigned to each ceremony, and shuttle buses will be running guests back and forth. Parking at KMart or Regal Cinemas should be your best bet. If you have family or friends staying at a nearby hotel, shuttles also make pickups at various locations. Here’s the complete list of parking and ceremony locations.


  • Don’t forget gum… it’s a lifesaver for all those meet-and-greets.
  • Fruit that won’t make a mess – grapes provide cool and quick energy and won’t leave a lot to dispose of.
  • Unwrap snacks beforehand and pack in a Ziploc bag – it will double as a trash bag when you’re finished snacking.
  • Some granola bars – and don’t forget a few extras for when the person next to you starts to wilt. Our favorite? KIND bars – they’re made of fruit and nuts, sans sugar and wheat.
  • Make sure your camera batteries are charged. Even better, bring an extra.
  • Water in a reusable bottle. Trash cans get full and you get eco points for refilling.
  • An album of your all-grown-up grad’s early days to show off to family while waiting around – or to see if you can still embarrass them (the answer is always yes).
  • Chapstick with SPF, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat. Outdoor ceremonies can leave you prone to cooking if the sun’s right. Alternatively, stowing a fold-up emergency umbrella in the car never hurts.
  • A pen. Not only can you mark your grad’s place in the roster, but hangman can sound pretty entertaining after the 82nd name on the list. And don’t forget M.A.S.H.! Fill in the blanks with your grad’s name – can you say perfect fodder for any after parties?
  • A extra (and extra comfy) pair of shoes. Whether you’re braving it out with heels or take a detour through an unexpected puddle, having an extra set in the car can flip a good mood gone bad.

Now, whether you’re playing proud parent or the let’s-get-this-party-started friend, you may be asked for some ideas on how to kill time and fill up the reserves. Here are our best recommendations:

For the early risers with time to kill before the ceremonies:
– Check out the Harrisonburg Farmers’ Market (open 7am-1pm).
– Take a peaceful walk through the old Woodbine Cemetery, stopping to pay your respects to the 270 graves of Confederate soldiers.

For the relatives who don’t want to hang around while your kid is sharing goodbyes and high-fives:
– Take a walk through the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum.
– Visit the indoor Dayton Farmers Market (don’t miss the Mennonite-made chocolates!). There’s also a cafe area inside if you’re in need of a little refreshment.
– Sneak in a wine tasting on the way back to the party (here’s a great map of the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail).
– Track down some unique antiques – Rolling Hills Antique Mall is right nearby and features some great Civil War collectibles (it’s far more extensive than it looks!).
– Into quilts? The Virginia Quilt Museum in the downtown area will bestow a whole new appreciation for the well-worn craft. On display: 300 quilts and whole lot of Virginia heritage.

For the little trooper who sat through the whole ceremony:
– Meander through the library (bonus: if it’s a hot day, this is the perfect opportunity to relish the cool, quiet company of books).
– Check out the Explore More! kids’ discovery museum.
– Throw a ball around on the Quad.
– Just 12 minutes south, White Oak Lavender Farm is the perfect stop for all ages. For a $5/person entrance fee, you can explore the grounds, visit the farm animals in the Discovery Center, check out the beehives, walk a labyrinth… and even play a life-sized game of checkers.

For the guy who amused the stadium with his rendition of “I’ve got a rumbly in my tummy”:
A Bowl of Good has two locations and offers vegan/vegetarian options.
– The best taco truck in town (our opinion) is Tacos  El Primo – find the teal blue truck churning out its savory bites at 1110 Reservoir Street. You can even call ahead to have your order ready when you arrive: (540) 560-2315.
– You’ll never go back to Dunkin’s once you’ve sunk your teeth into the melt-in-your-mouth addictive qualities of Strite’s Donuts. For up-to-the-minute location tip-offs, give them a “like” on Facebook.

For everyone in need of a pick-me-up before the ensuing parties:
– Order an iced mocha or latte from Jeremiah at Court Square Coffee (open 9-3pm).
– Sit down with a cup of tea at Earth & Tea Cafe (order some delicious soup or a vegetarian wrap while you’re at it – you can call ahead and skip the lines).

Still looking for the perfect apres-ceremony adventure? The Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center is an essential stop for planning your time in Harrisonburg and the surrounding areas. After chatting with a Travel Specialist, take in the on-site Valley Turnpike Museum, Civil War Orientation Center, and gift shop. Open 9-5 every day. Tip: If you’re the plan-ahead type, give them a call before the weekend to get inside leads on the very best things to do.

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