A&F Commencement Heroes Provide Critical Support for UH Graduation Ceremonies
By Jesus Acevedo Jr.
The University of Houston's Spring 2022 Commencement ceremonies saw 5,917 undergraduate, graduate, professional and doctoral students walk across the stage throughout 17 ceremonies. For the students, it's a culmination of hard work and dedication. For family and friends, it's a sense of pride to see loved ones accomplish a goal. A sense of pride also runs through the many UH departments that prepare the university for commencement season. Getting the university ready for commencement season is hard work.
"It's basically like having 17 special events compressed within three and a half days," said Fire and Life Safety Director Chris McDonald, whose department walks each venue beforehand.
The work to get the university ready for commencement begins months before any graduation ceremony takes place. The Fire and Life Safety Department meets with the University of Houston Police Department, Parking and Transportation Services, and the Office of Emergency Management to discuss that semester's commencement season and make a game plan.
These departments review past graduations and make adjustments so that every commencement season is better than the previous one. A nine-year veteran of commencement season, Lieutenant and Special Event Coordinator Demarcus Williams estimates that the university sees anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 cars on campus per commencement. Upwards of 30 officers work inside and outside the graduation ceremonies during commencement season, directing pedestrian and car traffic.
"It's a constant moving of parts and everybody working together and communicating to make sure everything flows correctly," said Williams.
This commencement season, Parking and Transportation Services added staff members inside the stadium garage to help direct cars to vacant parking spots and assist pedestrians to the stairs and elevators. While Parking and Transportation Services is busy year-round, the department shifts its attention to commencement season in May and December where the goal each year for parking is to have a seamless operation, said Parking and Transportation Services Assistant Director Allen DeForde.
The UH Campus Store begins commencement work months in advance. The UH Campus Store hosts two events, Grad Fair and Graduation Celebration. Grad Fair occurs towards the beginning of the semester, and it involves students selecting their regalia. Graduation Celebration is held towards the end of each academic semester and allows students to pick up their Grad Fair orders.
The UH Campus Store sells anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 cap and gown sets in one commencement season. The UH Campus Store also communicates with advisors and faculty for their regalia throughout the semester. Employees from the UH Campus Store are also on-site during commencements to assist students with last-minute regalia or simply to help students make sure their regalia is on correctly.
"This is a huge achievement for the students, so as they're walking across the stage, we want them to look proper in their attire," said Store Manager Samantha Eades.
One of the stages students cross is located at the Cullen Performance Hall. This commencement season, Cullen Performance Hall hosted six graduations. And while the special events team helps get Cullen Performance Hall ready for commencement, the department has a significant role.
Theater Director at Cullen Performance Hall Mark Levine said rehearsals are completed the week of commencement to make sure lighting, sound, and the platforms are all working properly. Once inside their respective commencement ceremony, visitors will get a program detailing the ceremony schedule. The program is courtesy of the university's Copy, Print, and Delivery Services department, which prints the programs for all UH System universities.
"We're printing the equivalent of an 18-wheeler worth of programs," said Graphics and Communications Manager Eric Dowding.
During the 2022 Spring Commencement season, the department printed 15 programs, or approximately 550 pages worth of programs per commencement for the University of Houston. The department also prints other documents vital to commencement season, such as the ceremony signage, parking signs, ceremony tickets, and badges.
While many graduates see a lot of family and friends in attendance, some potential visitors may not have that option, which is where the University Information Technology department streaming services come into play. Some commencement locations, Fertitta Center and TDECU Stadium, have the production services to stream the ceremonies and only require UIT's streaming technology. But other commencement locations do require a top-to-bottom production service.
In terms of number of viewers, UIT Assistant Vice President David Johnson said the Fall 2021 commencement ceremonies had 7,691 total live viewers from across 48 countries. Almost half of those viewers, 48.9 percent, saw the ceremony on a mobile device, with 7.8 percent watching with the captions.
And with so many visitors during commencement season, the university's Wi-Fi must be able to handle the traffic from all these viewers. In the weeks leading up to commencement, the University Information Technology department tests Wi-Fi across the entire campus.
Commencement season is also an opportunity to show off the university. The UH Facilities department works before, during, and after the ceremonies. The team members meticulously prepare the grounds with extensive cleaning and planting flowers for the backdrop of 100s of graduation pictures, specifically including the areas around Cullen Performance Hall and the Cullen Family Plaza. Additionally, dedicated custodians work hard to provide clean facilities for the graduates, families, and guests.
The work of teams from the UH Police Department, Campus Safety, Parking, Cullen Performance Hall, UIT, Copy, Print, and Delivery Services, the UH Campus Store, and the Facilities department may go unnoticed by graduation attendees, but there's no denying that these commencement heroes are key contributors to this aspect of student success.