The 2024 graduation season for colleges and universities around the country has been uneasy. While some institutions opted to cancel their ceremonies in the wake of various campus protests, Arizona State University leadership decided they must do everything they could to hold theirs. COVID caused many of this year’s graduates to miss out on high school graduation. ASU was determined not to see them miss out a second time. With concerns about campus protests operating in the background, Rhino Arizona Director of Operations Jayson Adamsen and his team moved forward with normal load-in and show preparations at the stadium.

An Incident-Free Load-In

For many years Rhino Arizona has provided the stage for ASU’s graduation and commencement ceremonies. Rhino Arizona stagehands also deliver the set-up and tear-down stage operations for ceremonies held on the campus football stadium field. ASU campus police and administration briefed our crew leads about campus protests. Our leads passed the information along to the Rhino crew in pre-shift safety talks.

Much of the prep work was done overnight to keep Rhino personnel out of the heat.

At these late hours, Rhino crew members are often the only people at or near the stadium, other than security personnel at key access points.

The evening of May 4th was the first in the series of commencement ceremonies, specifically for the ASU Schools of Engineering. This is when a situation of protest-related concern developed.

Suspicious Activity Spotted During the Ceremony

During the ceremony, the wind picked up. They needed an extra ballast to secure some pipe and drape backstage to prevent it from blowing over. They sent Rhinos Jeff Taurman and Steve Bates to the “boneyard” adjacent to the stadium to get additional sandbags for the pipe and drape bases.

While out on this task, they spotted a person dressed in black with a black backpack up on “A” Mountain, a beloved landmark on the west side of the stadium. However, that area is not a place one would normally climb around. It is steep with much of it ending in a cliff. Certainly, it is not a place where one plays around in the dark. The person was also moving suspiciously, trying to crouch behind rocks as he traversed the mountain toward the stadium.

Rhino Stagehands Alert Event Security 

Jeff and Steve reported this to the ASU Campus Police. ASU and the City of Tempe police officers promptly put many eyes on this person. Technically, he did not breach the ASU property. Due to his location, they did not send officers to confront him directly. Instead, they dispatched officers to the fence line where the mountain interfaces with the stadium.

As the apparent intruder got close, the officers illuminated him with flashlights to make him aware that they were watching him. Immediately, he retreated across the cliff face and away from the stadium. Although Tempe police officers tried to catch him, he slipped away into the night. His intentions were never found out. Whatever the plan was, it was thwarted because two Rhino crew members saw something and said something.

Thank You Rhino Arizona!

As a stagehand labor company, event security is not our area of focus. Nevertheless, these were extraordinary circumstances. The communication channels between event security and Rhino personnel were open and active. The Rhino crew on the scene was alert to an added dimension of duty. The happy outcome of no disturbance was a win for everyone. We commend Jeff and Steve for their situational awareness and sense of larger responsibility. Well done to them, Jayson, and all on his team at Rhino Arizona!