Adventures in graduation


I didn’t attend my college graduation ceremonies. I was already working in New York (that’s New York City, to non-New Yorkers) and wasn’t able to make it back.

Now, many years later, I am once again at my alma mater and working in an office. Through my department, I met the woman who runs special events on campus. Eventually, I began working for the photography company that shoots the individual photos at commencement ceremonies. I now make sure the grads have filled out their Nomenclator cards and that the Nomenclator (the guy reading the cards) keeps the cards in the proper order.

I’ve been doing this for several years now and love it. There’s something about seeing the students embarking on their futures. It has nothing to do with nostalgia. It has to do with the excitement, the smiles, the proud families.

It’s not routine, even after six or seven years, 3 times a year. A professor come in with a robe that had been skunked. Student marshalls haven’t paid attention and don’t know where they need to be. A student runs in, late, only to find out his commencement is being held across campus in another venue. Occasionally, we have a fainter.

A hint to the ladies: if you intend on getting wasted the night before, don’t listen to the still-drunk voice in your head that tells you to just put on the robe and the mile-high heels because no one will see what is or is not under the robe, right? That’s true — unless you trip on the stairs and your robe flips up. Then you will moon the university president, the platform committee, all the other graduates and the entire audience.

The one that worried me the most was a young man, so panicked at the thought of getting his diploma, he was hyperventilating. I thought we were going to lose him. Seriously? C’mon, kid. The hard part is over. You’re just taking a walk.

Some grads take selfies, some take video, and some text. This guy Skyped. His family was back in Syria and were not able to attend the ceremony, so friends Skyped on the cell phone so mom and dad could watch their son graduate.


I make sure tassels a on the correct side and that people know where exits are if they need to make a quick escape.

There are times when the woman in charge, Barb, or our photographer, Pat, will need to find someone. I’m there and can be on the lookout. I’ll text Barb if one of the grads comes in with a baby, someone comes in on crutches, in a wheelchair, or with an assist dog. They don’t always remember to tell the organizers that there is a need. I also alert the Nomenclator if there’s something out of the ordinary he should know.

The most exciting part of commencement is the hooding ceremony. I’ve seen it a dozen times before and I will watch it again at the next. There’s something magical about watching the faculty escort put the hood over a newly minted Ph. D.

I am here to tell you the Howard Wolowitz is wrong. Engineers do go on from their Masters to receive doctorates. During commencement this past summer, I was in the robing room with the doctors-to-be. Everyone was (supposed to be) filling out the card and keeping it until the faculty marshalls take the card before they go up on stage.

Someone spotted a card on the floor and handed it to a marshall. Stella dropped her card. The marshall asked Stella to please come and retrieve her card. No Stella came forward. The marshall asked again. Again no Stella came forward. Finally, a second marshall did what we all wanted to do. He yelled, “Stella” a la Marlon Brando. Everyone started laughing.

Except the engineers. Not one laughed. Typical. As a rule, engineers don’t really understand humor. Alas.

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