February 06, 2018

When Chris Love joined WPI’s Registrar’s Office in November 1989, Commencement wasn’t something she really thought about. Her job duties didn’t include the big day, but she got involved that first year knowing the important milestone the day represents. “They were looking for people to help at Commencement, so I volunteered,” she says. Then she did it the next year and she hasn’t stopped. As her job responsibilities slowly evolved to include more and more Commencement duties, she quickly learned what makes the day run smoothly.

Today Love, WPI’s associate registrar, is part of a team for all things Commencement—they begin planning for the May ceremonies in September. With separate undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies awarding about 1,500 physical diplomas to students who complete degree requirements during the year, Love and the team coordinate everything—from ensuring the names on the diplomas are spelled correctly to making sure friends don’t switch seats and throw the order of diplomas (and, therefore, graduates receiving them) out of whack.

Add in the Commencement program, reader cards, honors cords to hand out, lining up enthusiastic graduates and making sure they stay in order, and numerous unforeseen hazards and organizing commencement can seem as daunting as herding a field of cats.

Registrar, Guidance Counselor, Cheerleader

“We review three times,” Love says. “We start in late September, looking at their credits earned.” Determining who will actually graduate in May has a domino effect on every aspect of a ceremony where last-minute changes can’t always happen. Acting as an official guide, Love might gently prod a student to earn the extra credits to graduate on time or she might help another figure out a plan to let the family know that graduation will take a little longer.

Why it Has to be Perfect

With an event of such gigantic proportions, a flub or two might be expected. But for Love and her team, perfection is the goal. “They deserve it,” she says simply. “The students and the parents.” 

“I have had students come up to me at Commencement and say, ‘I couldn’t have done this without you.’ That makes everything worth it.” -Christine Love

It’s Not Just the Diplomas, it’s the Students

Love works with students from the time they first register until they leave. “They talk about their plans,” she says. “I enjoy that part of my job. It can be emotional, especially for the ones who have been here more than four years.” That span can include confusion about classes, trouble with credits, or even misunderstandings about transfer credits. She walks them through it all, and they appreciate it. “I have had students come up to me at Commencement and say, ‘I couldn’t have done this without you,’” she says. “That makes everything worth it.”

Who Knew?

Commencement is a production that involves everyone from the registrar’s team (which includes people in Love’s office, work-study students, and volunteers who return every year) to Commencement day volunteers who keep the students in the proper order to receive diplomas. True to WPI form, there’s lots of improvisation to fix unplanned glitches. Cookie bags from the dining hall fixed the problem of sweaty hands smudging the reader cards. Giving row leaders fluorescent cards eliminated lots of scrambling during line-up.

Favorite Thing About the WPI Community

“I am proud to say I work here,” she says. “It’s the school and the reputation and being part of this community.” Like a musician who can’t just enjoy another’s concert, commencements at other schools remind Love of what WPI does right. They only make her proud of WPI and even more determined to make sure this Commencement is as perfect as humanly possible. From the immaculate grounds the Facilities Division provides, to the Chartwells reception, to the military-like precision of the day—Love is proud of it all.

It Ain’t Over til It’s Over

You’ll find Love honoring her own Commencement traditions. As the newly minted graduates celebrate their accomplishments with family and friends, Love and her Commencement crew head over to The Boynton. From the comfort of a booth, they relish rehashing the day and the distinguished and celebratory way WPI does it.

“We do it up well,” she says.

- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil