The Mace – April 2021


Message from the Acting President

The world continues in a state of uncertainty in this new period of transition with the roll out of vaccines. The NAACO community, however, remains steadfast, regardless of circumstances, to provide a space to share ideas to support colleagues across North America as they meet the challenges of planning commencement and convocation. The success of the 2021 NAACO Annual Conference is a testament to the resiliency and adaptability of our community. Never has the value of our members to their institutions been more evident and the demands on their time to respond and create have never been greater.

In these times of significant change, Linda Bekerian has made the difficult decision to step down from her role as president on the NAACO board. Claire Alexander will serve as acting president for the remainder of the term.  Linda’s contributions to NAACO have been immense. Linda has been a member of NAACO since 2004, served a term as treasurer (2009–2012) and this was her second term as president having previously served in this role in 2012–2015. Her knowledge, leadership, dedication, and commitment to the governance of the association have ensured that the board is well equipped to continue the momentum she set towards a bright and successful future for NAACO. Her presence at the board table will be greatly missed.

Over the next several months the board will be reviewing the associations strategic plan to set our direction for the next three years with a focus on enhancing member benefits to grow and strengthen the association. You will also see the members website revised to be more effective and user friendly. We know that the next couple of months 

will also be an incredibly busy time for our members. Stay connected on the member forum, with regional discussions, and join the Hot Topic Calls. Take advantage of the incredible community of members and sponsors that make NAACO what it is.  

Wishing you all well with your commencement and convocation planning.



Claire Alexander
Acting President
Manager, Office of Ceremonies and Events

University of Guelph


NAACO Hosts 2021 Virtual Conference
April Airhart, MPA
2021 Conference Committee Member
Director, University Events
American Public University System

On Monday, February 22, NAACO officially kicked off its 2021 annual conference, Creating Impactful Moments in a Changing World, in a very different way. Due to the continuing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization made the difficult decision to host the conference virtually this year, but that didn’t stop the conference planning committee from creating and executing a phenomenal conference experience. Going virtual in 2021 produced the largest number of attendees in conference history with more than 600 individuals in attendance! There were also 48 nonmember institutions in attendance!

This year’s conference may have been virtual, but the planning committee really went above and beyond to ensure there were a robust number of educational sessions (26), along with various social sessions to help members connect and relax. One of the best new additions was Good Day NAACO to get the day started in a fun and positive way, along with the daily wrap up to send everyone off for the evening.

The conference platform, Pathable, was the real winner this year. It made connecting with fellow attendees and accessing educational sessions easy and fun. We were also able to collect some data that proves just how successful our first virtual conference was. We had more than 4,000 public conversations over the course of the conference, with almost 9,000 private messages sent!

In addition, we celebrated six new certificate program graduates from our Certificate in Academic Ceremonies program. These individuals completed two years of conference and coursework to complete the program. Congrats, graduates!

Overall, the 2021 conference was a huge success. Thank you to all our sponsors, attendees, and especially our conference planning committee, for creating an educational and memorable conference experience.


You Are Not in This Alone
Virtual NAACO Conference and Live Emcee
Gabrielle Martinez
Graduation & Curriculum Data Specialist
New Mexico State University

First, I want to say thank you all for the lively discussions in the chat rooms, breakout rooms, and during the Good Day NAACO sessions at the NAACO annual conference. I loved hearing the triumphs and lessons learned the past year, all while having some friendly competition along the way in Pathable. The live co-hosting role was definitely out of my comfort zone, but it was great to have that live component of the event. The prerecorded element is always the safe bet, but it does not beat that feeling of the human aspect of stumbling on your words, saying “umm” sometimes a bit too much, or connecting live with the audience. 

Decisions and plans are pivoting and changing quickly for all of us. After initially planning to host a virtual ceremony, five weeks before the ceremony date we have now pivoted to a new outdoor venue and will now have a ticketed event, in person. The past few weeks, I have appreciated being able to go back and view every single educational session. NAACO colleagues, thank you for continuing to share your knowledge with us.

As we mentioned in the wrap up of Good Day NAACO, do not forget that you are not in this alone. The resources from educational sessions, colleagues, and corporate sponsors are here to help us all. Do not forget the oath or mantra you made with us during the finale of the conference. Maybe it is time to remember, rethink, and maybe even adjust that oath you made for yourself and your institution. If you still have it sticky noted to your wall in your home office, share it with us using #naaco21.

Need a reminder of those good feelings from the conference or a pick me up on a long day? Do not forget the awesome Spotify playlist created during the conference. I know I still tend to get “It’s a Good Day” stuck in my head each morning. It is a Good Day NAACO, and you got this!


Members Share Top Takeaways from the 2021 NAACO Annual Conference
Mary Beth Rehrer
Manager of Special Events and Programs
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

“Inspiring,” “idea-sparking,” and “elevating” are three words I heard used to describe this year’s NAACO annual conference.

Decidedly different than past year’s conferences, the 2021 virtual event left NAACO members with notebooks full of creative ideas from digital tools, appearances, and award-worthy social media posts. Everyone wants to up their game, especially those hosting a virtual event.

Here’s what some of our members had to share about their top takeaways:

As a first-time attendee, Amy Cobb from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University was inspired! Amy is putting several new components into her event. She’s taking her marketing and production plans to the next level based on conference takeaways. This year Amy’s virtual ceremony will create an “unboxing” social media blitz, have improved production quality in a stage-like atmosphere, and add in a special guest. I’m curious if this is a guest. Post-event, Amy’s team is also adding live affinity group receptions, which was another conference learning.

Conference newcomer Katy Peter from Bradly University was awed by the power of the NAACO community. Kathy shared, “it’s amazing the things you can learn and the problems you can solve when you bring together a community of people that truly want to help one another.” Kathy found her people! She was also impressed by Pathable as a platform, commenting that it was user-friendly and felt like a conference without overdoing it. As she is relatively new to commencement planning, Kathy is hoping to experience the NAACO conference in person next year.

Looking to expand her arsenal of experience, Ellen Liebman of The College of Arts & Sciences at University of Pennsylvania learned of Padlet at a session and hopes to use it as a tool in the future. Ellen felt that a grad box is really expected by graduates and used findings from the Brag and Brew session to source a vendor and put together a grad box for her school.  Finally, hearing everyone talk about the heightened expectations of this year’s ceremonies vis-á-vis last year’s, really drove home to her. This led to the U. Penn team deciding that it required a bigger spend to deliver a celebration to their school’s expectation.

As for myself, I found heaps of inspiration throughout the conference, such as GradImages’ Bennett Zerbe’s “elevator speech” featuring mad skills with the green screen. The levity and originality found in the University of Guelph’s Grad Congratulations video encouraged me to keep it fun—it’s what the graduates want.  Zarrah Holvich of UNBC shared an exceptional session, “The Camera as Microscope,” during which her creative storytelling and production ideas made me look at everything different. Finally, the insight shared by Casper Ter Kuile’s keynote into building community through every ritual was profound and thought-provoking. I’m still unpacking it all.

Want to continue this conversation about what you took away from the conference? Let’s discuss on The Forum.


2021 Commencement Planning Survey
Add Your Institution’s Information Today

As you may have seen, the 2021 Commencement Planning Survey has been circulating on the NAACO Forum. The purpose of this document is to provide the community with data on the format of various academic ceremonies being held this spring. Some institutions have completed their information, and it is ready to view. However, we would love to be able to share more data points with the community.   

  • If you have not yet entered your institution’s information, please do so at the link below.
  • If you participated last year, your institution name already appears. If your institution name does not appear, please feel free to add your institution at the bottom of the list
  • If you have already added information and your plans have changed, please feel free to update your row.
  • NAACO has not verified the veracity of the statements made in this document. It is for collaborative sharing only.
  • Please only share your information if you are comfortable with a wider audience knowing your plans.

Access the 2021 document here.


Update from NAACO Headquarters

First, I would like to thank everyone who made the virtual annual conference such a resounding success. We had more than 600 attendees join us over the course of the event, and it could not have been possible without the countless hours of planning and support from our volunteer community, speakers, and sponsors. As we begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel for returning to in-person meetings, I cannot wait to see each and every one of you next year in Philadelphia.

As we enter the busy season for the majority of NAACO members, the HQ staff is remaining busy with work on some upcoming member benefit launches as well as starting to formulate what an in-person event will look like in the new world. Staff is currently working very closely with both the board and conference leadership teams to create a hybrid event in 2022 that includes a robust online component. More on these new benefits as well as plans for the upcoming conference will be announced this summer.

To all of the members who are currently ramping up for their own ceremonies, on behalf of the entire HQ staff, I would like to wish you a successful commencement season. We are here for you, and we look forward to celebrating your successes over the coming months.

Sara L. Wood, MBA, CAE
NAACO Executive Director


Thank You To Our Sponsors


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Church Hill Classics

GRADBOX by The Commencement Group


Herff Jones



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