Sunday, December 19, 2010

Backstage: Scenes from December Commencement, 2010


Victoria Summerly (Victoria's Backyard) put a request on my Facebook page asking for a post on what an American graduation commencement is like. I did an explanation of academic frippery last year, so I'll skip that this time and just show you some scenes from backstage, with a light dusting of commentary, where appropriate. (These photos are combined from some I took while working during two ceremonies.)


It starts Friday morning, with a rehearsal for members of the convocation committee and others who will have a particular role to play in the ceremony, such as banner bearers. Here, Dr. Comfort Pratt, who will direct the action, is giving assignments to the committee members.

There were over 2000 graduates at the university this December, so the colleges were broken up into four different ceremonies so that no one or two ceremonies would last too long. This works out well for the students and their families, and for the faculty who show up in service of their colleges. As you can imagine, however, it makes for a long weekend for convocation workers. Most of us work only a couple of the commencements (I did two), but the three people seen in the photo above, Comfort Pratt, Peggy Flores, and Tom Rorhig, were in charge, so they worked all four. I was at the first one and the last one, and I can tell you that they maintained their calm and good cheer throughout all. I think that's worth a tip of the hat. 

Later Friday afternoon, the first commencement is held. About an hour before the ceremony, students and convocation workers begin to assemble in the arena's practice court. The convocation worker's main job at this point is to help the students find their respective places in the order of things, give directions to the bathroom, answer nervous questions, and patrol for contraband, such as beach balls, small animals, and mortar boards that have "Hi Mom!" spelled out on top in glitter (the most common thing we confiscate). There weren't any of those things this year, but we did miss a tortilla that was thrown into the air at the end of the ceremony (Red Raiders will understand the significance of the tortilla).

Here a couple of the faculty are pretending to confiscate a hat.

It's also an opportunity to congratulate our students. Here are two of my favorites, Obed Hernandez-Gomez and Neil Gadhia, both of whom hope to go on to become doctors someday. I am very proud of them and will miss having them in my classes.

We also make last minute adjustments to our regalia, which is fussy and hard to put on by yourself.


 In the meantime, the faculty who attend in service to their colleges begin to assemble in a room in a different part of the arena's backstage.

 Dr. John Zak, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and proud father of a former student of mine, in his University of Calgary regalia and Christmas tie.

In due time, the faculty begin to file toward the auditorium floor, where the ceremony will take place.

Dr. Moira Ridley, faculty banner bearer, stands behind the mace bearer, waiting to lead the faculty in.

The university mace, which symbolizes the authority of the university to confer degrees, has its origins in clubs of war. It weighs forty pounds, so you can imagine that it is no small thing to stand and wait with this thing in your arms. 

Comfort takes a moment to wipe her brow. The ceremony has not yet started, but she has already put in a pretty full day. 

Peggy Flores is back at the practice court with the students, waiting for instructions on when to start moving them toward the floor.

Arena staff, who get the facility physically ready for the event, also provide support backstage.

At a signal from Comfort, the students are asked to rise.

They are led by convocation workers to a place just behind the stage and wait to enter the floor. That is not a gang signal the worker is flashing, but the informal hand symbol representing the Red Raiders. 

It is a great honor to be chosen as your college's banner bearer.

I love the way this student is straightening his tie and looking around. He was very interested in all of it. No matter how many times the faculty and staff go through these ceremonies, it is always unique to the student. We all do well to remember this.

Students file past faculty on the floor.

The faculty and students sit and the speeches begin. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of this part because it was too far away for a good shot from my iPhone, which is what I was using to make these surreptitious photos. (Everyone who appears here as an identifiable/recognizable person, however, did grant me permission to take the photo and publish it.)

Various people in the stage party are recognized by the chancellor during the opening moments of the ceremony, such as Dr. Audra Morse, 2010 recipient of the Chancellor's Teaching Award (seen here backstage post-commencement). The medals you see hanging around a faculty member's neck are teaching, service, or scholarship awards. Any pins on the hood or velvet panels are usually for an honorary society to which he or she belongs. Audra's distinctive oval pin is for the Teaching Academy, a service organization that recognizes master teachers at TTU, and to which you can only be elected by your peers. It is a great honor to be a member.
An honored guest gives the commencement speech. This year, it was given by Ms. Ginger Kerrick, NASA flight director and TTU alumna. This was one of the top two commencement addresses I've ever heard, the other being one by 60 Minutes reporter and TTU alumnus, Mr. Scott Pelley. (I had to listen to both twice, so I should know.)

The students are conferred their degrees by the president of the university, after which they line up to receive their diplomas. Neil and Obed wear medals identifying them as members of the University's Honors College:


This is followed by the singing of the alma mater, after which faculty and students recess from the auditorium. Here is the handsomest professor in the Department of Philosophy waiting backstage for me with a colleague of mine, Kurt Caswell.

The students leave the arena and commence their post-baccalaureate lives.

Godspeed, Class of 2010. Fair seas and following winds.

1 comment:

  1. Great rundown! Reminds me of when I graduated 10 years ago. The last picture of exiting the arena has haunted me for every one of those ten years as the photo I never shot. The blinding sunlight is incredibly symbolic. Thanks!

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