Bee infestation forces relocation of Catawba graduation

Published 12:05 am Saturday, May 16, 2015

After Catawba College officials observed the buzz around Keppel Auditorium, they relocated Saturday’s commencement ceremony and split graduates into three groups because of a bee infestation.

For about a week, honey bees swarmed around Keppel Auditorium. The bees numbered several thousand at times. The college was unable to remove the swarming bees, and on Friday announced its Saturday graduation would move from Keppel Auditorium to Omwake-Dearborn Chapel. Graduation ceremonies will be split into three groups on Saturday because seating in the chapel is less than half of Keppel Auditorium. Two ceremonies will be Saturday morning and one will be in the afternoon.

Graduates earning a bachelor of arts degree will have a ceremony at 10 a.m., with seating starting at 9 a.m. Students earning a bachelor of fine arts and the bachelor of science degrees will have a ceremony at noon, with seating starting at 11:30 a.m. Graduates in the School of Evening and Graduate Studies will have a ceremony at 2 p.m., with seating starting at 1:30 p.m.

Catawba College Provost Michael Bitzer said public safety was the primary reason for the commencement ceremony change.

“For the administration and for the college, we recognize that the auditorium was going to be filled to capacity and we did not want to take the chance,” Bitzer said. “With the number of bees, the public’s safety was really paramount.”

On Friday afternoon, the swarm of bees was smaller than other times during the week, said Catawba College Sophomore Joel Schlaudt. In total, Schlaudt said the bees swarmed four times in the area surrounding Keppel auditorium.

Swarms occur, Schlaudt said, when the amount of available space in a hive isn’t enough for its resident bees. The bees swarm in certain locations as they look for a suitable hive location, he said.

Because the bees couldn’t be removed from the area, Schlaudt and two other students helped set up bait boxes to capture the insects. They would be placed on a local beekeeper’s land after being captured.

The school on Friday blocked off access to the roadway between Oliver’s Way and the main entrance into Keppel Auditorium. A news release advised pedestrians to avoid the area because of the swarm.

All graduation-associated activities previously scheduled in the Robertson College-Community Center were also being relocated.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.