Administration prepares for commencement

Josh Goodman

Photo Credit : Van Neste

As graduating seniors receive their diplomas on Sunday, May 23, they’re not the only ones who have put in a lot of work to get to commencement. Whitman’s administration undertakes in a massive effort to make sure the special day is, well, special.

“Almost every single staff department on campus contributes something to commencement,” said Associate to the President Jed Schwendiman, who organizes the commencement process. “We want to make sure those pieces are lined up in the right direction so we have a nice event.”

Commencement requires an organizational effort like no other Whitman event. While the projected number of guests: 3,500 to 4,500: creates unique challenges with accommodations, the administration is busy at work long before the bleachers line Boyer Avenue.

“We have to make sure the diplomas are printed and in the correct order; we want to make sure that the street is closed; we want to make sure that Bon Appétit is ready for all the people that are on campus,” Schwendiman said. “I could go on and on with the various details.”

The registrar’s office comes together in the weeks before commencement to make sure all graduating students receive their diplomas as they walk across the stage, something few schools do; most mail the actual diplomas afterwards. Putting diplomas into their covers will not finish until after final grades are in on Thursday, May 20.

“We will have boxes all over our office of diplomas stuffed into diploma covers in varying degrees of completion,” said Associate Registrar Stacey Giusti. “Anybody who is going to be in the Latin category, we do not stuff their diploma, we await final grades.”

Once all the diplomas are stuffed, they need to be placed in the correct order.

“It’s nerve-wracking because we don’t have any room for error,” Giusti said. “As students walk across the stage, their diploma has to be in the right order, in the right jacket.”

The registrar’s office also must examine the credentials of each student who wishes to graduate, a “never-ending process” of scrutinizing each student’s record, distribution and major requirements and GPA, according to Registrar Ron Urban.

“Some of the things perhaps people don’t see are tracking students who have one or two things outstanding for completion,” Urban said, estimating that there were a couple of such students per year. “It may be something as simple as a faculty member neglecting to sign a major study card. Sometimes that involves a heroic effort: some [faculty] travel right after classes end.”

Once the commencement ceremony ends, the college provides a complimentary light lunch. According to Bon Appétit Catering Director Teresa Maddess, providing for such a large crowd has its challenges for a school that normally feeds fewer people.

“[It’s challenging] to source all the product, because when you’re talking about asparagus for 3,500 people, you’re talking about strawberries, we have to have it shipped in [and] enough time to prep,” she said.

To prepare food for the large crowd, Bon Appétit uses both the Prentiss and Jewett kitchens and prepares certain foods a few days in advance.

Yet Bon Appétit caters more than just the commencement lunch. Throughout commencement weekend, Bon Appétit will cater 27 events, ranging from serving 10 to 3,500 people.

“I love the rush of all the events,” Maddess said. “I love walking through there and seeing all the students and their families . . . That’s why you do catering, to let your guests leave your events with a smile and have a great time.”

Now that most of the pieces are in place, the administration is hoping for good weather. There is no indoor location on campus large enough to hold everybody in the audience.

Even though the ceremony will take place outside in all but the most extreme of weather, even a light drizzle would create problems for the luncheon.

“If it rains, I’ll have to fly by the seat of my pants, because we don’t really have a rain plan for that amount of people,” Maddess said, noting that the buffet lines cannot be outside in the rain.

Giusti said she’ll be looking at the weather before dawn.

“We’re all here really early Sunday morning watching the weather,” she said. “You don’t have to be here, but you’re not going to sleep, so you might as well be here eating donuts and drinking coffee. And the people in the dean’s office [will say] ‘there’s blue in the horizon, it’ll be okay!'”

For Schwendiman, nice weather would be a great finishing touch after a months-long organizational effort.

“What I like is trying to create the best day possible and just knowing that it’s anticipated, people are excited about it, and that we do a really nice job here,” he said. “In some ways, it’s the day of the year we work for all year long.”