The Mace – January 2022


Message From the President

I attended my first NAACO annual conference in Austin, TX, in 2009, and since then February has been a month I look forward to. It is an opportunity to step away from day-to-day planning at work to connect with my NAACO colleagues and to be inspired. Though the 2022 Annual Conference will be a different experience than in years where we would have all been together in Philadelphia, I am confident that whether you are online or in-person you will learn and be inspired.

The volunteer Conference Committee, led by president-elect Liz McMahan, York University, and local host and conference chair Ellen Liebman, University of Pennsylvania, together with support from NAACO HQ, have been creatively planning the conference to ensure that the experience of all attendees and vendors is considered. As event planners, we all know that a hybrid event is more complex and time consuming to plan, but is also an opportunity to be innovative and create positive change that may well influence future planning.

The full conference schedule is available online so that you can plan which sessions you will attend. One of the advantages of this hybrid model is that all the sessions will be recorded so you won’t have to miss any. In addition to the educational sessions, inspiring keynote speakers, and networking with vendors, you won’t want to miss the annual membership meeting on February 16 at 10:00 am ET, where we will share the new strategic plan for the association.

NAACO is a member-driven association and we are anticipating continued growth. As a board, we are committed to ensuring that the member experience is not only maintained as we grow, but is enhanced. The ongoing growth and success of NAACO wouldn’t be possible without the valuable support and partnership of our sponsors. Like our members, they have been innovating and adapting over the last couple of years. The annual conference is an opportunity to learn not only about their products and services, but also to tap into their vast experience with thousands of ceremonies. Whether you are attending online or in person, make time to connect and get to know all the sponsors. You never know when a casual conversation might become an invaluable resource for your event planning.

For those unable to join this year’s conference, please remember that NAACO offers year-round educational opportunities for both seasoned and novice industry professionals to come together, collaborate, and elevate each other’s ceremonies with bright ideas, fresh perspectives, and invaluable experience.  Monthly hot topic calls and regional meeting dates will be posted to the upcoming events page on the website. Registration is currently open for the NAACO 1-day Online Crowd Safety Certificate.

With sincere wishes for a safe, healthy, and successful new year,

Claire Alexander
NAACO President
Manager, Office of Ceremonies and Events, University of Guelph


Our Annual Conference Is Nearly Here!
An Update from the Conference Committee

Ellen Liebman
Associate Director of Administration, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania
NAACO 2022 Conference Committee Chair

We are now just a few weeks out from our hybrid annual conference and planning is getting very serious! The final schedule has been released, which includes a mix of in-person and virtual presentations on topics relevant to all of us academic ceremony planners. Whether you want to produce your own ceremony using the latest technology or want to participate in discussions about diversity and inclusion in those ceremonies, we have a session for you.

For those attending in person, we are looking forward to seeing you in Center City Philadelphia, just steps from City Hall, and showing you some great sights around the city. We’ll be having a great time at one of our leading museums, the National Constitution Center, while we mix and mingle. There will be many opportunities to network, both at mealtimes and throughout the conference. As always, there will be plenty of time to chat with our amazing sponsors.

For those attending virtually, Whova is the platform we will be using to deliver content to you. In addition to dedicated virtual hosts, you will see our sponsors again in virtual booths in the app. We have made the schedule as virtual-friendly as possible, as well as time zone-friendly. You’ll be able to see a lot of great content no matter where you are physically!

A few helpful notes:

All sessions will be recorded, so if you are having a tough time deciding between two, you’ll still be able to watch whichever you’re not seeing live.

We will be raising funds for Settlement Music School. You’ll get to know them and their mission throughout the conference.

Look out for an email coming soon with fun facts about Philadelphia. Wherever you’re participating from, we hope to put you in a Philly frame of mind. Maybe a classic “Rocky” reference, like “Yo, Adrian!,” can do that!

Again, I am so excited to welcome you to our conference this year. The Conference Committee has been working very hard on it over the past months and has had to roll with near-constant changes to produce an amazingly rich three days of learning and networking. It’s going to be fantastic!


Get Involved—Share Some Good News!

A new addition to NAACO Connect is the quarterly Good News discussion thread! Share your recent achievements and successes, from the small accomplishments that happen daily, to the ones that might be months or even years in the making. Let’s highlight all the amazing things our community has accomplished and celebrate them, because a little positivity can go a long way.

Share your good news here on NAACO Connect! 


Supply Chain Challenges Affect Event Planning
Mary Beth Rehrer
Manager of Special Events and Programming, Rutgers University
NAACO Director-at-Large for Communications

The supply chain issues that are interfering with the global economy are expected to continue well into 2022. The reasons for this are long and complicated, but the fact is that the problem is not going away soon. Event planners need to manage around the challenges and plan for it.

Getting access to some items will be more challenging than others, but for certain, budgets will be affected. Costs are increasing with lowered supplies, increased labor rates, and fuel prices on the rise. Inflation is another factor to add in when considering budgets.

Food shortages and increased costs are being noticed with low to no supplies on some grocery store shelves and prices affecting our wallets. Some items have increased as much as 50%! Cost increases are making chicken thighs much more budget-satisfying than chicken breasts.

As event planners, we need to adjust for budget increases, cutting unnecessary expenses and being flexible with others. Consider that increased fuel prices may affect expenses such as staff travel, airfare for a keynote speaker, or the staging company’s transportation costs.

There are reports of global paper and plastic shortages. This news may have some planners considering a move to a digital program book, limiting the number of copies printed, or, perhaps, resizing a program to a more economical format. Check on your diploma supplies and confirm that this critical component won’t be lacking. Discuss needs in advance with your printer, so that paper stock is in supply and ready for your projects. One thing I’ll be checking on is the inventory of the linen-like, higher grade paper tablecloths we switched to some years back. At the time, it helped my budget save on costly linen service. If this item isn’t available, I’ll be considering a change for spring 2022.

With plastic-based products, ordering schedules for premium items such as pens, water bottles, and the like may be challenged. Work with your vendors sooner to ensure inventory is available in the country and check out the production schedule too.

Individually wrapped plastic utensils and packaged food items are in high demand in COVID times. These items may cost a bit more and require a longer lead time for delivery. Caterers and suppliers should be contacted earlier so that you’re not caught off guard when ordering wrapped snacks or service items.

There are other areas that may not readily come to mind, such as audio/visual needs. Due to the challenging economics, many smaller businesses have shut their doors, leaving less companies to negotiate with. There is also high demand for bigger outdoor events, where people feel safe to gather. This has put a squeeze on the availability of video screens and audio systems. Getting replacement pieces and parts for electronic equipment has been pressing. Be sure to work with a reliable vendor who has a large connection of resources. This will be a great benefit in the event of equipment failure and the need to shift gears last minute.

Finally, there are also reports of limited supplies of packaging materials, primarily glass, containerboard, cardboard, and aluminum. Well, this one nearly stopped my heart: reports state that low glass supplies may affect the production of wine and sparkling wines! Glass bottles are critical in the production of wine. Wait…wines. Prosecco and Champagne could be in danger? We better be careful when we pop the next bottle to celebrate the end of commencement season. We won’t want to spill a precious drop!

Review your budget and get chatting with vendors earlier this year. A little bit of extra planning will save you from supply chain challenges.


A Special Thanks to Our Regional Leaders
James Cuaresma
Director of University Events and Protocol, California State University, Los Angeles
NAACO Director-at-Large for Membership

As we continue to experience the challenges of COVID-19, NAACO regional leadership continue to provide engagement opportunities by leading or supporting virtual regional meetings, conversations, and regular check-ins. These events allow member institutions to share best practices to help all of us navigate the ever-changing landscape of event planning in today’s environment. I would like to thank the current regional leaders who have supported NAACO’s efforts of continued engagement during the pandemic.

Aubrey Hughes, University of Nevada, Reno

Interim Regional Director: Jeanie Gunn, University of Victoria
Regional Director: Lisa Elliott, Simon Fraser University

Regional Director: Sondra Schwartz, Wilfred Laurier
Regional Assistant Director: Rachel Huang, McMaster University

Regional Director: Shana Green, University of Rhode Island
Regional Assistant Director: Jessica Cragnolin, Columbia University

Regional Director: Monica Nelson, Walden University

Regional Director: Gwynne Mountz, University of Alabama Birmingham
Regional Assistant Director: April Airhart, American Public University System

Regional Director: Lisa Elson, Colorado School of Mines

Regional Director: Ann Acob, Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences
Regional Assistant Director: Lauren Zeutenhorst, Central Washington University

Regional Director: Kelly Carland, University of California, Irvine
Regional Assistant Director: Whitney Smith, University of California, Davis

A special thanks to past regional leaders who helped us pivot into a virtual platform when the pandemic began in 2020:

Zarrah Holvick, University of Northern British Columbia
Judith Currie, University of New Brunswick
Janet Waller, University of Alabama Huntsville
Zach Fairchild, University of Oregon
Gabrielle Martinez, New Mexico State University

These amazing regional leaders have all contributed to NAACO’s success and growth by dedicating time and energy to ensure that our members are informed and engaged.

If you are looking to get more involved with NAACO as a regional leader, please email I look forward to seeing you all at the annual conference, whether in-person or virtual.


The Antidote to Event Planning Fatigue in 2022
April Airhart
Director, University Events, American Public University System
NAACO Southeastern Region Co-Chair
NAACO Communications Committee Chair

Happy New Year, NAACO members! It’s finally 2022 and just when we thought things were looking up, Betty White passed away on New Years Eve. Thanks 2021, glad you kept that in your back pocket up until the last second. One last kick in the pants before the new year. #sigh I’ve seen meme after meme saying let’s all go into 2022 as quiet and gently as possible. I’m over that. I want normal back, but the normal of 2019 is gone. It looks like this might be the new normal as we plan events into 2022 and beyond. Buckle up!

Many universities have invited back those who missed in-person commencements due to COVID to participate or are working to finish doing so. We had to change the way we operate our ceremonies to bring back our graduates and it is a huge challenge. We are all tired of COVID, but we carry on as 2022 is making many of us think of new ways to celebrate old traditions. It’s exhausting, yet exciting.

For example, this year American Public University System is shifting from two ceremonies to a combined ceremony, awards, and welcome reception on Friday, and three convocations on Saturday. Sometimes, when events are confined to specific places and times, your brain works magically to make them successful for your attendees and your university. Making adjustments and tweaks to keep your program fresh and full of new ideas is challenging as well as rewarding.

I’ve heard story after story from all over the continent about how many of you have gone way outside what you normally do to make commencement and many other academic events not only possible, but also positive, meaningful experiences for your attendees. It’s often a thankless place to be as we’re expected to pull rabbits out of hats on many occasions. I know you’re tired, but hang in there! There’s light at the end of every tunnel and while this tunnel is EXTRA long, and who knows where it might end, it surely will.

In the meantime, know that you are not alone, and NAACO is here for you. NAACO Connect is a great place to ask questions, seek support, and find resources that may help you go through new challenges during these trying times. Reformatting events and changing the script is hard, but it’s easier with help from your colleagues and friends. I hope you will take advantage of all NAACO has to offer and that your 2022 events are successful. Be well, my friends!


Update from NAACO Headquarters

As we kick off 2022, NAACO HQ has hit the ground running with several programs on the horizon. Presently, staff is working hard to bring the NAACO membership a hybrid conference experience. While we are not expecting attendance numbers to rival pre-pandemic times, some of our members will get to see each other in-person for the first time since 2020. However, the NAACO leadership recognizes that a strong virtual event will still be needed to accommodate those who are unable to attend in person. If you have not yet registered, please do so here: On this page you will find the full schedule, as well as our health and safety policy for in-person attendance, which includes a proof-of-vaccination requirement.

On the horizon for 2022 will be some exciting new content and programs that will be in line with NAACO’s brand new strategic plan. We will be seeing fresh content being added to the new Learning Management System, more opportunities to connect across NAACO platforms, and, hopefully, we will also see the return of a few in-person regional meetings (fingers crossed).

While our landscape seems to be ever-changing, NAACO’s community remains incredibly strong. I am always energized by the commitment of our volunteers and the rich engagement within the association. I’m looking forward to meeting some of you in-person in Philadelphia, and we are hopeful that in 2023 we will have an even larger contingent joining us in Vancouver.

Sara L. Wood, MBA, CAE
NAACO Executive Director