Commencement Demystified

Updated: March 2, 2015

Planning for Commencement is not a simple task, but it is certainly one of the most rewarding. I want to share with you some behind-the-scenes details about the Institute’s key event.

When do you start planning for Commencement?

It never stops! Commencement planning is a year-round project for us. During the slower summer months, we are reviewing the overall look of the event and how we can improve things like the signage and communications. During active semesters, we are booking vendors, creating event documents to ensure a smooth operation, answering guest/student inquiries, and managing the ticketing process.  

How many people are involved in organizing Commencement?

The central event planning is managed by the Office of Special Events & Protocol, which is made up of three people. But on the day-of, we depend on over 200 people, including volunteers and event staff, to help us run the event.

Is Commencement the only event you’re responsible for planning?

No. Special Events & Protocol actually plans several other Institute events including New Student Convocation, Faculty & Staff Honors Luncheon, and the Retirement Dinner to name a few. Our office also assists with planning events for high-level officials and consults with various departments on wide-ranging topics. (I have had honest conversations with people about sno-cones on campus).

What is the hardest part of event planning with regard to Commencement specifically?

As I do with all events, in planning Commencement, I try to predict what could go wrong and then take every preventive step possible. What’s difficult is identifying all the  weaknesses and devising solutions that don’t inconvenience our guests. It's even more challenging when those issues are outside your control, such as bad weather.

Another tough part of Commencement planning is keeping the details organized for multiple ceremonies. It's easy to get confused when you have five events in three days, so you have to take every precaution to ensure, for instance, that you don't miss introducing a dean because you confused the details for Friday evening with Saturday morning’s. I am adamant about either discarding or filing paperwork between each ceremony to prevent those issues.

What is your favorite part of Commencement?

Right before the ceremony begins, we play the same video, and I have the last 60 seconds of it memorized! Every time I hear those final notes of music, I get goose bumps. I am excited for the event that is about to begin, nervous that months of planning could fall apart in the next few minutes, and anxious to get it started. It's an amazing feeling, and I am thankful every time for it. There is nothing better than seeing the smiling graduates during the ceremony and knowing you got to be a part of making that special moment happen for them.