This graduation festival is just getting underway. Last year it drew about 10 thousand people to downtown, and vendors this year are also hoping for a good turnout. Several local hotels and restaurants are already benefiting from the commencement crowd.
The stage is set and the chairs are ready for U.C. Merced's commencement Saturday evening.
U.C. Merced Spokesperson, Brenda Ortiz said, "We're expecting about 5000 guests to come on campus and celebrate our 500 graduates."
This year's ceremony marks a major milestone for the young university, which will award it's 1000th degree. It will also be an especially meaningful moment for one graduating senior.
Dulcemaria Anaya said, "I made a promise to my mom 4 years ago that I would be the student speaker at U.C. Merced's commencement, and I was able to fulfill that dream."
Anaya is the first in her family to attend college. She's heading to graduate school at U.C.L.A. this summer, but says this is the campus her parents wanted her to attend from the time she was 3-years-old.
"The campus wasn't even built," said Anaya. "There was just that idea of bringing U.C. Merced here. And so I remember taking trips down here to Lake Yosemite to see the university's progress and if it was actually going to be built."
During her speech Saturday, the lifelong Merced resident plans to talk about the impact the university has had on the community since opening in 2005. And right now many local businesses are seeing that impact amplified. Several hotels are sold out.
Vanessa Mendoza with Ramada Inn said, "We're very packed. We're actually overbooked for the weekend."
And many local restaurants are offering special deals and late hours to prepare for big crowds. The owner of De Angelo's couldn't be happier.
"Oh everything's looking great," said Vinnie De Angelo. "With our location, surrounded by all these hotels and motels here the families of the students are staying at these places and patronizing our restaurant, and the students do throughout the year."
This cap and town festival is also a big boost for downtown businesses. Last year it was marred by a shooting that injured a U.C. Merced student. This year the city has provided extra security. This event runs until 10:30 Friday night, and the commencement ceremony is at 7:00 Saturday night.