‘What a way to end the year’

GVL Archive 
President Haas offers a diploma to a graduate during commencement

GVL Archives

GVL Archive President Haas offers a diploma to a graduate during commencement

Lizzy Balboa

With winter commencement ceremonies fast approaching, many students are beginning to relax and slack off. However, those working behind-the-scenes at Grand Valley State University are still chugging along—and will be doing so until the last student steps across the stage.

Dean of Students Bart Merkle said a team of staff members has been preparing for the upcoming ceremonies since January.

Although the team is primarily led by the Office of Student Life and the Dean of Students Office, members also collaborate with other departments at GVSU.

“It’s a university effort to pull this off,” said Bob Stoll, director of the Office of Student Life.

Merkle said the involvement and input of various departments truly helps pull off a high-quality ceremony.

“We have a lot of people working on it to be certain we are putting on a ceremony that the students are going to enjoy and their families are going to enjoy,” Merkle said, adding that the team meets on a weekly or biweekly basis throughout the semester to plan for the event. However, the frequency of meetings increases as the ceremonies draw nearer.

“There’s a lot of details in planning commencement,” said LeaAnn Tibbe, assistant director of the Office of Student Life, as she flipped through a ten-page timeline of things to do for the Grand Rapids commencements, alone. “I don’t think students realize all the behind-the-scenes work that goes on to make it go flawlessly.”

The team performs various tasks from developing programs and brochures in the office to collaborating with staff at the Van Andel Arena to ensure that the graduation scene is set as the university wants it. Tibbe said she and the others involved also attend an annual commencement conference to prepare for GVSU’s many ceremonies.

Although the Grand Rapids event takes a lot of effort to plan, Tibbe said the group has “less pressure” to organize the Traverse City commencement on May 3 because it has fewer students walking.

And the coordination of students is one of the hardest parts to get down.

“How do you tell 12000 students what to do and when to do? That’s really key,” Tibbe said. “Its hard to get that information to students.”

However, the team pulls off smooth ceremonies year after year through the dedication of its staff and the funding of the university.

Merkle said he thinks the winter commencement ceremonies cost somewhere around $100,000, which is split between the two ceremonies in Grand Rapids and the one in Traverse City. The cost varies from year to year based on lighting, sound and all other set-up factors, though.

However, when the stage is up and the procession begins, price is not a significant concern for those involved.

“Every time we start down the aisle and the processional with all the music [starts], I really get a chill down my spine,” Merkle said, adding that the ceremony is a good “culmination of all the work and time students have put in [over the years].”

At this time, the upcoming celebrations face only one impediment: the roads adjacent to the arena are riddled with construction. Stoll warned students to allow extra time for arrival and set-up.

Other than the physical roadblocks, nothing is stopping the show from going on.

“What a way to end the year,” Tibbe said.

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