The Day of Pictures
December 20, 2014—
For the hundreds in the hallway of the SDC, today will be a day long remembered. In pictures, in video, and in the memories of everyone gathered here in the Wood Gym, images of today mean something. There are an infinite number of snapshots. Before they leave for, well, not for good, but for their careers—they grab lose last few shots they’ll remember forever.
The students filed in, taking up their assigned seats, making sure they’re organized just right. The speaker addressed the graduating class, some wise words. Then the first row got up, was escorted to the stage, and handed their name cards over. It was the big moment.
“Daniel Radcliffe, magna cum laude.”
Of course, they aren’t in caps and gowns. And this isn’t graduation day.
The afternoon before commencement is usually a light-hearted affair, the rehearsal settling some nerves back down. That includes playing with the names on the cards handed to the reader.
Seated in the stands are the staff members who make the ceremony come off. It’s one last chance to check the lineup, the script, the equipment, the seating.
The wise words for the graduates are occasionally timeless, like the advice to show up early to get good parking. And to definitely not be late. Others are a bit more modern.
“And please,” implores Mari Buche, professor in the School of Business and Economics and the University Marshal. “Don’t take selfies on stage. There will be plenty of time for your selfies and photos later.”
Pomp and Potatoes
It’s morning. The parking lots outside the SDC are mostly empty. Students are starting to file in, finding their way to the Multipurpose Room to wait. The platform party has made their way into breakfast, a who’s-who of Michigan Tech administration. There’s the kind of chatter you hear when you’re with people who haven’t seen each other in months. That’s between bites of scrambled eggs and potato. The conversation is polite. There aren’t any phones in sight.
The Multipurpose Room is filling up at the same time, but there’s a nervous silence to it. Students are standing in clumps, arranged by major. Surprisingly, they don’t have their phones out, either.
In the Wood Gym, staff is hurrying about, getting the last few things in place. The photographers are setting up, carefully taping down footprints of where they want the graduates to stand. With fifteen minutes to go, the music starts, the Superior Wind Symphony playing a short program as most of the family and friends pile in. A couple of media members finish up their interviews and find close seats.
At 10:28, the Symphony finished the last of their pre-ceremony songs. A brief announcement asked for mobile silence and, in a sign of the times, listed the preferred hashtag for tweets and photos.
At 10:30, the full version of Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 starts, a lively tune where only a section in the middle is the section we commonly associate with graduation. Mari Buche, University Marshal, follows the color guard in, leading the graduate students, then the undergraduates, then the platform party. Everyone stands without prompting.
Plenty of flashes are going on the far side of the Wood Gym, the side where the students are filing in. These will be photos, ones showed to family now and children and grandchildren years and decades later.
Glenn Mroz speaks, half following his script and half speaking from his heart. This is a reward for the graduates, yes, but for administration, faculty, and staff, this is the reminder of why each day’s tasks matter so much. We hear of a litany of successful alumni, then even more what this graduating class has accomplished.
It’s amazing that they’ve done so much while their careers are just getting started.
Soon after, it’s time, each graduate’s name spoken in turn, a quiet cheer coming from one corner of the gym or another with some names.
Ninety minutes later, the students are being welcomed as alumni, diploma folders in-hand, shifting a little bit in their seats. They’re ready to get going.
Out in the hallway, there’s a little bit of a scramble. Restless toddlers are darting around, joining a few members of the pep band and cap-and-gown-wearing Blizzard as they prepare to make their grand entrance. There are all of three pep band members present: this year’s commencement is a week later than usual, and most of the students not graduating today are already gone from town.
Those three are joined by the percussion section coming in from outside, half of the Superior Wind Symphony popping up to play a distinctly different style. Everyone is on their feet. One last snapshot to hold onto, an ending, and also hundreds of beginnings.
A few moments earlier, the television by Coaches Corner had the Food Network on, the volume low but easy to hear. Then, a sea of people came down, a mix of gowns and ties and skirts, many going to the Alumni Association’s party in the Multipurpose Room, others saying goodbye—for now—one last time to long-time classmates.
It’s friends and relatives meeting for the first time, and it’s also one last glimpse of what the last few years have been like.
The crowd starts to thin out, mingling taking a backseat to lunch reservations and parties. A couple of classmates bump into each other between the doors to the parking lot. There aren’t many words for this. But there is a picture, as one pulls her phone out, putting her arm around her classmate and now able to take as many selfies as possible.
“Hang on, I want to remember this,” she says.
* click *
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.