One Commencement, Delivered with Love, By Staff and Volunteers
After the graduates flipped the tassels on their caps from right to left and posed for photos with proud family members, someone still had to pack away the gowns worn by the faculty, checking names off a master list.
At The Liacouras Center on May 5, that someone was Roland Fountain, College mailroom supervisor, a 45-year employee of the College and a 45-year volunteer at commencement.
"I represent the College so I want to make sure the students are happy," he said. "I like the students. It's a pleasure watching them walk up to meet the President (at commencement)."
Fountain didn’t wait to be assigned a task. After he helped the faculty don their ceremonial robes, he walked the building searching for other ways to help. When stacks of commencement programs began to dwindle in the lobby of The Liacouras Center, he unpacked boxes of programs and stacked them high so no friend or family member would go home empty-handed. “I go where I am needed,” he said chuckling.
Every commencement is both a labor of love and a series of unexpected events and challenges. This year, a crew of well more than 100 college employees — some paid, others volunteers — pitched in by handling everything from the placement of programs on the back of more than 1,000 chairs, to perfecting the visuals and audio, to preparing the robing rooms, to assisting with the processional.
Faculty and deans showed up en masse, connecting with the students to get some final photos. Hazim Hardeman, an alumnus, Rhodes Scholar, and commencement speaker, received a surprise visit from Brian Seymour, associate professor of art and coordinator of the College's Honors program, along with a group of faculty who had taught Hazim.
Paula Umana was there, as usual, helping the graduates line up for the ceremony. She directs Single Stop, where students can get help with housing, food, tax refunds, childcare — anything that would pose an obstacle to graduation.
For her, it was an emotional day, with equal proportions of sadness and delight. "Being in a place where you see the people who struggle, yet persisted and did all they could and then to see them graduate... it's priceless," she said, her throat catching with emotion. "I saw so many people smile."
This year's commencement was emotional in part because of the sudden passing of David Watters, the assistant dean of students who had organized so many graduations that he was known on campus as Mr. Commencement.
Richard Kopp, assistant dean of Campus and Community Engagement, said an amazing cast of volunteers — old and new — stepped forward to make the College’s 52nd commencement a memorable one. He rallied them the night before with a stirring email paying tribute to Watters.
“Without everyone's help, no matter how large or small the role may seem, the day will not be a success without each and every one of you,” he wrote. “I’d like to thank you in advance for your time, energy, expertise and guidance — you've all helped me (and each other) get through a difficult time of transition without commencement's longtime fearless leader, David Watters, at the helm. He will surely be shining down on The Liacouras Center tomorrow morning and will be proud of his team's efforts and the legacy that he's left behind.”
For many employees, commencement is the day that makes their jobs worthwhile.
Jenavia Weaver, once again, served as lead marshal for the procession.
"I look in the students' eyes and I see the stories," said Weaver, a 19-year College employee and coordinator of the Student Leadership and Involvement Center. "They inspire me more than they understand."