In a typical year, I attend one Hofstra commencement ceremony in December and four during May. The May commencement exercises have individual ceremonies for undergraduate, graduate, Law, and an Honors Convocation while the December ceremony has all of the above for midyear graduates. Only one of our May ceremonies, the undergraduate ceremony, has been held outdoors regularly and for this year’s ceremony, the weather was perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, nice breeze, not raining, no thunder and lightning. For an outdoor ceremony, you could not have had better weather. And yet, within two weeks of this year’s ceremony we made a decision that going forward the undergraduate ceremony would be divided by colleges and schools into two separate ceremonies and would be held indoors in our comfortable air-conditioned arena. Why the change? We were not satisfied with our rain plan which would have moved the entire undergraduate ceremony into our arena with very limited seating available for family members and friends of the graduates. For an occasion as important as graduation, limited seating, even only under adverse outdoor weather conditions, was not OK with us, and so the decision was made.
At this time of year, typically after attending commencements, there is always a period of time when all of us tend to reflect on what worked well, what didn’t work well but still worked, and what didn’t work period. This year, I attended not only the Hofstra commencements but also one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school commencement for my local school district. What always works well and for me is an essential part of any meaningful commencement is that each graduate has his or her name read aloud, and each graduate has a chance to shake hands with the appropriate official from that school or college. I know that this may not be possible in schools with very large graduating classes but in those cases there should be alternatives provided that include recognition by name and a meaningful handshake from the institution involved.
Speeches being short also works well. It is very rare for a graduate or that person’s friend or family to focus on much more than the graduate’s actual rite of passage. For the most part, speeches seem to be some variation of I did it; see what I did and you too can do it; even if it is a lousy economy you can do it; while you do it, remember your loved ones; remember those less fortunate than you are; remember the importance of education; and by the way, you and your generation should save the world; as well as, in very rare cases, see what I did and don’t do it. All important and meaningful messages but here especially the guideline of “be brief, be sincere, and be seated” serves the speaker and the audience very well.
Going back to outdoor ceremonies, be sure to provide drinking water to graduates and to the audience as well if at all possible. Equally essential is that outdoor ceremonies, especially late in June, should be held early in the day. Late in the day on a hot humid day outdoors or in an unair-conditioned venue indoors, should be avoided if at all possible.
And going back to names at graduation for a moment, having sat through a total of eight ceremonies, I am compelled to report that of all the names that were read at all these ceremonies for all these graduates, there was not one Herman mentioned. Almost any other first name you can think of was mentioned at least once. Either I have a dinosaur of first names or I need to be invited to a commencement in Germany to truly see how vibrant a first name I have.