Meet the people who make Commencement magic happen

Ernie Hinojosa, Joel Cromley, and Brian Taylor, with Facilities General Services in Moby Arena

Brian Taylor, Joel Cromley and Ernie Hinojosa with Facilities General Services set up Moby Arena before Commencement. Photo by John Eisele, CSU Photography.

If you throw a celebration for 4,000 of your best friends – and their families – you might need a little help with the details. Think of Commencement as a three-day celebration of the success of students who have earned their degrees at Colorado State, and you’ll get an idea of how many details there are – and how many people across campus take care of the details.

“A large number of people make these ceremonies happen,” said Joel Cromley, who manages the general services and heavy equipment crews for Facilities Management and has been setting up Commencements since 1990. “The list goes on: from the coordinator to the scheduling folks, the college representatives to those who assist with the setup and standby during the event. I believe everyone works as a team and does their best to make every ceremony the best it can be for the graduates and their families.”

And they do it for eight different colleges and the Graduate School every six months. There was a time when Commencement was one big event held in Hughes Stadium, but the increasing number of graduates made that unwieldy for all.

Now individual college ceremonies take place in both Moby Arena and the Lory Student Center. Cromley’s crew starts setting up in Moby A-Wing on Monday to be ready for the first event on Friday, laying tarps to protect the floor, placing chairs for graduates on the floor and dignitaries on the stage, and arranging the other items, such as podium, microphones, sound system, and other staging items that are delivered throughout the arena. They are also responsible for making sure C-Wing is set with tarps, tables, chairs and other equipment and supplies to assist staff in organizing the event and graduates before their big walk.

The four-person general services crew also coordinates with the heavy equipment and grounds crews as needed, as well as rental and floral companies for deliveries into Moby and with each college to ensure their needs for their individual ceremonies are met.

“We have set up for commencement many times over the years and I still enjoy seeing the finished product,” Cromley said. “I like to stop and take a look at the overall setup and how great it looks.  I also always look to see what we can improve.  We always appreciate the comments about our attention to detail.”

Kate Cooper, assistant director of University Events who has coordinated the past two Commencements, said each involves an enormous amount of planning and coordination to make sure no detail is overlooked.

“We’ll start planning the next one as soon as this one is over,” Cooper said. “Then we have the whole semester to get ready.”

Commencement Production team

Commencement Production Team. Photo by Gretchen Menand, CSU Web Communications.

The production team for each Commencement includes representatives from Parking Services; CSU Police and Emergency Services;  Facilities, including Custodial Services which is on hand for every ceremony; Armed Forces, which is responsible for the ROTC commissionings; Resources for Disabled Students, who provide sign-language interpreters and other assistance; Department of External Relations for video, web, communications, and creative services; all eight colleges and the graduate school; Alumni Association; Lory Student Center; Athletics; CSU Events; the Provost’s Office, and the Registrar’s Office.

Details, details

The team doesn’t start from scratch each time. Cooper inherited a detailed Production Schedule from Lee Nagle, who guided Commencements for many years while in the Provost’s Office. It includes an eight-page task list that the team lives by, and any lessons learned from the previous ceremony.

“Each college has someone who acts as Commencement coordinator, even if that isn’t their full-time job,” Cooper explained. “They arrange for speakers and all aspects of their ceremony. They are all extremely organized, Type-A individuals, and we totally depend on them.”

Beverly Munroe is the extremely detail-oriented person in the Registrar’s Office who, for the past nine years, has made sure each graduate’s name appears correctly in the program – and everyone gets a diploma cover and a card to hand to the platform announcer.

“The last day to add names to the program is about a month ahead,” Munroe said. She estimates that she spent a complete week proofing all the names and their designations and honors, before it went to press last week. “I didn’t do it all at once; I had to take breaks to make sure I could still be accurate.”

As for those covers and cards, that can be trickier than it sounds. The covers are ordered in bulk and stored on campus awaiting deployment.

“We have to let Joel and his crew know how many covers and how many programs to deliver to each ceremony,” Munroe said. “We know how many names are in the program, and we figure about 85 percent will actually walk, but we don’t want anyone to not receive a cover. And we need a program for each graduate, and their family, and a few for our archives.”

For Spring, 8,000 programs have been printed; about 4,000 undergraduates and graduate students are expected to receive degrees.

Beverly Munroe and Krystal Turner seated at table with diploma covers

Beverly Munroe and Krystal Turner in the Registrar’s Office prepare for Commencement. Photo by Kate Jeracki, CSU Internal Communications.

Yes, the diploma covers are empty when they are handed out. Graduates receive their actual diplomas in the mail a few weeks after the ceremony. Degree analysts in the Registrar’s Office including Krystal Turner make sure graduates have actually completed all their requirements after final grades are posted, and input the correct information for the printer, before the final diplomas are generated.

Online component

Despite the venerable academic regalia, 21st-century Commencements also include a huge online component. Gretchen Menand on the External Relations Web Communications team keeps the Commencement website up-to-date throughout the year, and works closely with videographers Ron Bend and Jason Rogien to make sure each ceremony can be watched in real time around the world. Then the video team turns around a closed-caption version of the ceremonies for later viewing as quickly as possible. Social media coordinators across campus also share the Ram Pride in their graduates on every channel available.

“With so much involved, you can’t make decisions in a silo,” Cooper said. Case in point: No one consulted Athletics before the Board of Governors approved a Sunday ceremony for December. “We thought we’d have everything torn down in time for the basketball game later that day, but it turns out, NCAA requires teams have access to the floor four hours before tipoff. When we found out, Warner College was gracious enough to start earlier, and Facilities doubled the tear-down team, and we made it happen.”

And another detail was added to the Production Schedule for next time.