Undergrads help prep for weekend

The University began executing arrangements for 22,000 students, guests, faculty and administrators Monday, preparing for Sunday’s Commencement ceremony on the White House Ellipse. Approximately 300 students have been hired to work the week’s festivities, which will see some changes from previous years.

The School of Business will have two celebrations this year, as opposed to the one it normally has for both graduate and undergraduate students. Also, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development will move its ceremony from Lisner Auditorium to the Smith Center.

“We discuss what went well and what didn’t go well, but the main issue we work out during the Commencement planning process is the schedule of events for the weekend,” said Jim Hess, director of University Events. “We work with the schools and their deans, and some years a school is forced to give in and compromise, and the next year it gets its preference.”

Immediately following Commencement, the University begins planning for next year’s ceremonies.

A Commencement planning committee begins by reserving the Ellipse with the National Park Service every fall. The committee also reserves the MCI Center as an emergency location and begins contracting vendors to supply chairs, tables, a stage, tents and microphone rentals, Hess said.

“At the start of spring semester we make sure everyone on the planning committee is on the same page, and then we hit the ground running with regular meetings and communication,” Hess added.

He said this year’s setup includes 22,000 to 23,000 chairs, hundreds of tables, five to 10 tents, a sound system and about 20 microphones. Water and bathroom trailers will also be available for guests on the Ellipse.

Several organizations, including the Marvin Center, Student and Academic Support Services and the Department of Athletics and Recreation, are responsible for hiring about 300 students to work over the next week as Commencement staff.

Beth Penfield, executive assistant of athletics, said her department did not have to “overtly go out and advertise” for Commencement workers, because enough students wanted to do it.

Student workers, who are paid $7 per hour, also get free University housing until May 23, the day after graduation.

Penfield said about 50 students backed out on working the ceremony because they did not realize the workload. Most students work 30 to 40 hours during the week setting up chairs, unfolding tables and ushering attendees during the ceremonies.

“Half the students probably wanted extended housing and saw working Commencement as a free ticket for housing, and others didn’t realize how much work they would have to do,” Penfield added.

Sophomore Sara Fink said students who agreed to work graduation week and then decided not to work made their decision due to dissatisfaction with the hourly wage the University pays its staff. She signed up and dropped out of working Commencement after securing a summer job with higher wages.

“I understand that working Commencement doesn’t require that much skill, but if the University paid $10 or $12 an hour, more people would have worked.” Fink said.

Fink added that getting extended housing is a huge incentive for students to work Commencement.

“The longer I can stay in housing, the better,” sophomore Christine Burke said. “I’m here, why not stay and work Commencement? I have a few friends graduating as well.”

Sophomore Justin Street signed up to work graduation because he wanted to make some money before the summer begins.

“Pay is a big issue because people can go home and make so much more doing different jobs,” Street said. “There are definitely other campus jobs that pay more, and it gets pretty hot at the end of May.”

Though Street “would like to be paid more,” he said he “would still consider working Commencement in future years.”

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