Volunteers Play Key Role at Commencement

May 03, 2013

Commencement is a special event and a life milestone for WPI students. With all the emotions and excitement in this landmark occasion, it’s easy to overlook the planning and people behind the scenes that make this ceremony come to fruition.

The countless hours of paid staff members may be the first thing that comes to mind, but just as important is the work of volunteers, who provide much-needed assistance to the thousands of people attending the commencement festivities and who aid in the coordination of a complex operation, making it appear seamless.

“Our volunteers are very important—without them Commencement would not run as smoothly as it does each year,” says Kim Wykes, Commencement volunteer coordinator and Campus Center and Student Activities administrative assistant. “People on our campus really take pride in the WPI community and are always willing to help.”

The number of volunteers at Commencement varies from year to year according to the size of the graduating class. This year will be one of the larger cohorts, requiring a greater number of volunteers—15 staff members and more than 55 undergraduate students have signed on to help. Half will serve as ushers, and the rest will staff the numerous job stations.

Some typical duties for volunteers include lining up graduates in front of Boynton Hall, aiding in drop-off and pick-up services, and providing assistance to guests in need of disability seating. For guests who might have difficulty walking to their intended destination, the university provides golf carts driven by volunteers.

Staff and students also engage in a host of offerings beyond the ceremony, itself—including coordinating the photo stand process, so families have the opportunity to take close-ups of their graduates receiving their diplomas. Following the ceremony, volunteers conclude their work by directing guests to Reunion Plaza for the reception portion of the day.

“Our volunteers welcome and congratulate WPI community members, students, family, and friends with a smile on this very special day for our graduates,” Wykes says. “They offer assistance to over six thousand people attending commencement. And they’re on alert at all times to answer questions.”

It’s a year-long process to plan out the commencement ceremony. In the eight years Wykes has participated in the planning process, the number of volunteers continues to grow slightly, and these volunteers continue to be a crucial part of WPI’s commencement history.

The commencement planning process for the following year begins in late May with a postmortem meeting of the Commencement Committee, chaired by Greg Snoddy, associate dean of students. The Committee then meets monthly beginning in January to plan Commencement Day logistics. The mapping out of volunteer assignments varies slightly each year depending on the physical environment. For example, last year the construction of the Sports & Recreation Center altered the amount of quad space available for tenting the stage area.

Although the volunteer crew is solidified for this year’s ceremony, the committee is already looking for volunteers for the 2014 Commencement. Non–senior undergraduates and staff members are encouraged to get involved. To participate, contact Kim Wykes at 508-831-6806 or kwykes@wpi.edu.

By Matt Stewart