The Great Southern Bank Arena on the MSU campus is the graduation capital of the Ozarks: 14 ceremonies in 16 days. (Shannon Cay Bowers photo)

I’m one of the few people who walks the Missouri State campus without my smartphone inches from my face.

I fear that if I tried to walk and read texts simultaneously I might inadvertently end up in the basin of the giant fountain.

Because I don’t multi-task, I’m able to actually notice a few things here at the college — where the Springfield Daily Citizen office is located.

I’ve noticed that graduation is approaching.

Students, some already in caps and gowns, are taking photos of themselves, often near the fountain.

It’s May, after all. The month of graduation.

Since 2008, you couldn’t say “graduation” in Springfield without also saying “JQH Arena.” (The “JQH” stands for John Q. Hammons.)

Last month, the name was changed to the Great Southern Bank Arena, thanks to a $5.5 million gift from the Springfield-based bank, the area’s largest.

No matter what the name is, it still seats 11,000 and it remains the graduation capital of the Ozarks.

In total, there will be 14 graduations there in 16 days. That number includes all five of Springfield’s public high schools.

The number went up to 14 when Ozark High moved graduation to MSU.

“We added Ozark most recently — it’s their third year with us,” says Melissa Blankenship, associate director of athletic and entertainment facilities at MSU.

“Fourteen is the most we have ever had since I’ve worked here,” she says. She started at MSU 10 years ago.

She experienced two graduations in the arena: she has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from MSU and a master of business administration from MSU.

Here’s a rundown of the 14 graduations (held and to-be-held) at the Great Southern Bank Arena.

Thursday, May 5:
Evangel University. Until 2020, the graduation was held at James River Church in Ozark.

Thursday, May 12:
4 p.m. Parkview High
6:30 p.m. Hillcrest High
9 p.m. Glendale High

Friday, May 13
4:30 p.m. Kickapoo High
7 p.m. Central High

Saturday, May 14
8 p.m. Willard High

Sunday, May 15
1:30 p.m. Republic High
5:30 p.m. Nixa High

Thursday, May 19
5:30 p.m. Ozarks Technical Community College

Friday, May 20
Three separate ceremonies for different MSU colleges

9 a.m.

Reynolds College of Arts and Letters

College of Education

College of Natural and Applied Sciences

1 p.m.

Darr College of Agriculture

College of Business

Interdisciplinary Academic Programs

5 p.m.

McQueary College of Health and Human Services

College of Humanities and Public Affairs

Saturday, May 21
8 p.m. Ozark High

For each graduation, Blankenship tells me, the university will add or remove chairs based on the projected number of graduates, and change the school logo for the table skirt (where the diplomas are placed) and the speaker’s podium.

It will also adjust the number of chairs the school wants on the stage.

“We try to accommodate every school,” she says.

If the school wants a place for a piano soloist, the university will make sure there’s a piano on stage.

MSU also provides flowers and risers.

Blankenship did not know what MSU charges to rent the arena for graduation. Her boss knows, she says, but he was off work Monday.

If the school, instead, wants a percussionist on stage — as Evangel did — then it’s up to that school to bring the appropriate equipment.

Generally speaking, she says, not much changes from graduation to graduation.

Three MSU staff members, including Blankenship, are in a rotation so that each graduation has someone from her office present.

Has anything ever gone wrong? I ask.

Not that she recalls.

“We have multiple eyes from the arena looking at things and multiple eyes from each school,” she says.

Can ya help a columnist out? Any funny stories?


The goal, she says, is to avoid mistakes and to keep memorable and funny stories to a minimum.

This is Pokin Around column No. 36.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin