Winter Commencement

Winter Commencement: What Goes on Behind the Scenes

A total of 448 students were dressed in black robes in theMultipurpose Activity Center (MAC) on the afternoon of Jan. 15 for Monmouth University’s 2016 Winter Commencement.

Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life and Chair of the Commencement Committee, said, “It truly is a celebration of the culmination of what it takes to graduate and Monmouth wants to make that as perfect as possible.”

On the day of the event everything seems to magically just happen. However, there is a multitude of moving parts behind the scenes in order for Commencement to go as planned.

Everything from how many chairs in a row to where and when participants process is all coordinated. Facilities Management Staff builds the entire stage, sets up all seating, and makes sure electrical equipment is working efficiently.

For the Student Life Staff, the day of Commencement is the highest of their priorities. Nagy said, “There’s a certain amount of pageantry involved, such that you have to make sure the students are lined up a certain way and that their gowns are correctly worn.”

The Registrar’s Office, Public Safety, Facilities Management, Office of Publications, Alumni Affairs, Provost and Student Life all work together with a single goal of having Commencement run smoothly.

Involved during the early stages of planning are the University Police. Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD), Chief William McElrath said, “Our recent and all prior Commencements have all gone very well. I attribute this to the planning done by the University as a whole.”

To ensure the safety of all of those who attended the event, the MUPD increased their number of staff on duty to 11 police officers, three safety officers and five traffic attendants. “Staffing varies and is often dependent upon any special guests requiring enhanced security or possible controversial speakers.”

The University Police prepared for every scenario leading up to the event. McElrath said, “As the event nears we contact our resources in county and state law enforcement to find out if there are any particular threats that might impact our event. These could be weather, criminal or terrorist related.”

Although safety is of the utmost importance for MUPD, Commencement is more than just a send off of recent graduates. “This is always an enjoyable day to work. Many of our officer and traffic attendants have established friendships with the students over the years and it gives us a chance to congratulate them and wish them well in the future,” McElrath said.

“It is quite remarkable how all of Monmouth comes together to make Commencement special, “there is a huge community effort,” Nagy said.

One of the most anticipated moments of the day is the guest speaker. According to Nagy, the speaker search process is done through strategic networking in order to get the most impressive and appropriate speakers.

“We tap into people we know and that are contiguous to campus, we consider all religions and genders. We are actually looking into a woman to speak for May.”

“Some students will say, ‘Let’s get Bruce Springsteen or Michelle Obama,’ well in reality we’re competing with the USCs and the Notre Dames of the world for those speakers. Unless you have some way to connect with the speakers and get the introduction, the likelihood of those big names coming to Monmouth is small.”

Although big names have a certain amount of clout, it is often the lesser-known names that make the biggest impact. Winter commencement’s speaker was Teresa Heitsenrether, managing director and global head of Custody & Fund Services for J.P. Morgan, who was awarded her doctorate honorary degree.

Being an influential woman in an industry dominated by men, Heitsenrether overcomes adversity everyday. Highlights included when she mentioned each time she was overlooked for a promotion, it was due to, “lack of strategic vision, which, in other, words means a ‘lack of testicles.” The over arching theme of her speech addressed that with determination, any goal you set to conquer you will achieve.

With an effective speaker, such as Heitsenrether, Nagy said, “ Students can take their own little kernel away with them and make it their own and grow. Everyone has a short attention span, particularly because it’s an exciting day and there is so much happening all at once.”

Monmouth said good-bye to 448 graduates during Winter Commencement. 239 (52 percent) of which were undergraduate students. 207 (46 percent) graduated from a Masters program. There were also two doctoral candidates who graduated with the Winter 2016 class. All of which were grateful for those who made Commencement possible.

Claire Zilenziger, Psychology Major and Winter 2016 graduate, said, “That day is such a tornado of excitement, it’s easy to forget what goes into putting it all together.”

Zilenziger prepared for graduation by doing everything that was required to graduate. She went to class, passed the exams and pulled the all nighters.

On the actual day of Commencement there is simply just not enough time to thank everyone involved.

“It didn’t hit me until after it was all over that I forgot to thank certain people involved. So if they’re going to reading this, ‘thank you,’” said Zilenziger.

photo Courtesy of Tina Colella