The Mace – July 2023


Message From the President

Liz McMahan
President, NAACO Board of Directors
Director, Congress 2023, York University

Dear NAACO Colleagues,

I hope that you have had the chance to rest and relax after a successful spring commencement season. It has been inspiring to see the recent flurry of activity in the NAACO Connect online community resulting from the successes and opportunities experienced this spring as members graciously share and learn from each other. I am grateful for this and the many contributions our members make and would particularly like to thank those who have volunteered on committees and the board for giving so generously of their time and energy throughout the year.   

During our recent board meetings in Fort Worth, Texas – the location of our next Annual Conference – I was delighted to pass the gavel to Jim Vitagliano who begins his term as President on August 1 and to congratulate Claudia Dávila as she steps into the President-Elect role. Also starting on August 1, I would like to welcome Director-at-Large for Membership Melissa Picher-Kelly and Sondra Schwartz who joins the board to serve out Claudia’s term as Treasurer. And I would like to recognize James Cuaresma for his tremendous contributions to the membership portfolio and Claire Alexander for her outstanding leadership and vision as they complete their terms on the board. 

As a member-driven association, there are many opportunities to get involved and as the professional home for commencement and convocation officers, NAACO is committed to creating an environment that is truly representative of the communities and members we serve. We are also committed to seeking out and amplifying diverse perspectives. 

  • Join the upcoming Hot Topics networking session on Wednesday, July 19. We are excited to launch this new professional development opportunity which will now be offered regularly throughout the year as another engagement opportunity. 
  • As our annual conference returns to the US south central region for the first time since 2012, we look forward to Inspiring Big Ideas in Fort Worth next February. Have you implemented a new process or want to share insight on a particular topic? Gain professional recognition and leadership skills and submit a proposal to present an educational session.  
  • Get the most out of your membership and host or attend a regional meeting. With a focus on roundtable discussions and information sharing at the local level, our goal is to offer one event in each region this year. NAACO HQ provides support including agenda templates and registration management for these institution-hosted meetings.  
  • Watch for your invitation to the Fall Commencement Showcase, an opportunity to learn more about the incredible resources, knowledge, and solutions that our corporate partners offer. 
  • Expand your leadership skills and strategically plan for the association’s ongoing success by considering joining the board or a committee. Reach out to a board member to learn more about the roles and opportunities. 
  • Know someone at another institution who would benefit from these and other NAACO member benefits? Share this edition of the MACE with your colleagues and connect them with NAACO HQ. As we continue to grow our membership, you are our best advocates. 

As I move into the Past President role, I would like to thank you for everything that each of you bring to your association. Please continue to take advantage of the abundant resources and benefits available to you through your NAACO membership. I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming Hot Topics call, online in NAACO Connect, or in Fort Worth!


NAACO President Liz McMahan passes the gavel to incoming President Jim Vitagliano


Hot Topic Recap: Establishing Land Acknowledgements and DEI in Ceremonies and Convocations

Christine Le
Member, NAACO Communications Committee
Ceremonies and Communications Coordinator, York University

Coming from an institution where a Land Acknowledgement has already been established, I was curious to learn how Rhode Island College created theirs at this recent Hot Topic Call in April with Anna Cano Morales, Vice President for External Relations and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Rhode Island College. 

Anna spoke on the importance of Land Acknowledgements and some of the steps she followed to establish one. She started with three things: research about the land and institution’s history, identify and learn from local Native American cultural experts, and engage leadership. She emphasized the importance of learning from cultural leaders or experts who can help craft the appropriate language and advise on the appropriate time and place for a Land Acknowledgement. 

Anna noted that Land Acknowledgements are a cultural behavioral change that do not cost much to establish but can make an impact by helping to affirm identities – something that is particularly important at institutions with a diverse student body.

In my own research, I’ve learned that there is concern within the Indigenous community that Land Acknowledgements can become performative if we lose sight of their meaning. Thus, I thought it was great that Anne also shared a few ideas on how to meaningfully engage others in the use of Land Acknowledgements. She suggested educating the community on why Land Acknowledgements are used and running workshops with those wishing to use them at ceremonies or other important events to help them feel more comfortable doing so. 

Interested in learning more? Watch the full session by logging in to the NAACO Resource Library. Recordings from other Hot Topic sessions can also be found here.


Key Considerations for Posthumous Degree Policies

Sariah Tillotson
NAACO Certificate Program, Year 2 Candidate
Assistant Registrar, Graduation Services, University of Nevada, Reno

Commencement ceremonies are a time of excitement and celebration. Students have studied, written, researched, and learned for the last two, four, six or more years to get to this point. Family and friends have gathered to watch their student walk across the stage and be recognized for the degree they have earned. We, as commencement planners, have spent months planning, coordinating, and organizing to effectively execute a joyous ceremony. However, what do you do in the unfortunate event of a student passing away before the completion of a degree? Do you have a policy regarding posthumous degrees?

A posthumous degree is awarded to a deceased student who passed away prior to the completion of their degree. When I first started working at my university there was no written policy regarding posthumous degrees. We had to quickly create one when we unexpectedly had to award five posthumous degrees in less than two years. However, over time the process has changed and I recently discovered our current policy could use some updates. Does your institution have a policy regarding the how, when, and where of awarding posthumous degrees? If you have one, is your posthumous degree policy current or does it need updating?

The awarding of a posthumous degree is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ and when that time comes, you will want to be prepared. I’ll go over some steps to consider when awarding posthumous degrees including degree criteria, approvals, time limit, recognition, point-of-contact, and diplomas.

  • Criteria – Establish the criteria that must be met by the deceased student. Do they need to be in good academic standing? Completed 50% (or more) of their degree requirements? Must be at least a sophomore/junior/senior? Have been enrolled in their final semester? Some institutions may have just two criteria that must be met and others may have a list of ten. What criteria is relevant to your institution?  
  • Approvals – Determine who gives the final approval and if there is a chain of command to follow. In most institutions, the head of the institution, the President or Chancellor, gives the final approval for any posthumous degrees. Some institutions require that the request go through the chain of command. At my institution it is first approved by the Department Chair, then the Dean of the College, the Provost, and finally the President. The information is then passed to the Commencement Director if we need to award during commencement and the Registrar to notate on the deceased student’s record. Learn what approvals are required at your institution.
  • Time Limit – Ascertain whether a time limit is needed. Should degrees be awarded within three years of the student’s death? Given the semester the student would have been graduating? Maybe there is no time limit. Figure out what will work best for your institution. My institution does not have an established time limit, though we have not had any requests more than one year after the student’s death.
  • Recognition – Decide where and when the posthumous degree will be given and/or the deceased student recognized. Will it be during the commencement ceremony or a private ceremony? At what point in the commencement ceremony? At the beginning? With other special awards? As the first (or last) in their college? Will a family member or friend be accepting the diploma on their behalf? Will their name be include in the commencement program? Determine how you will recognize the student and the awarding of the posthumous degree as this can be a very emotional time.
  • Point of Contact – Determine who will be the point of contact with the family. This may not be limited to one person or even one office. You may have one person/department who makes the initial contact with the family and then another person who is the contact during the commencement ceremony. At the University of Nevada, Reno, the President’s office will contact the family and make all the arrangements. They will inform the Commencement Director if the student will be recognized during commencement. We then have another person who will remain with the family the entire ceremony to assist with any logistics or needs of the family (getting a box of Kleenex perhaps).
  • Diploma – Establish when the diploma will be given to the family and what needs to be included on the diploma. Does the diploma need to be ordered and printed prior to the ceremony so it can be given to the family at time of presentation? Or will it be mailed? Determine the language on the diploma. Will you have “Awarded Posthumously” or something similar notated on the diploma or have no notation? Maybe the posthumous notation is only in the program and on the transcript. How will your institution do it?

Do the research. Find out if a posthumous degree policy exists at your institution. If there is a policy, does it need to be updated or is it current? If you can’t find a policy, now is the time to create one. Reach out via NAACO Connect to share ideas or ask questions. Your fellow commencement planners across the continent are here to help. No person or institution desires to award a degree posthumously, yet if you are prepared with a policy when the time comes (and it will come) the process will be smooth and efficient.


NAACO Member Spotlight with Melissa Goitia Werner

Heather Violett
Member, NAACO Communications Committee

Events Manager, Academic Affairs, University of Massachusetts Global

It is our pleasure to feature one of our NAACO Co-Founders, Melissa Goitia Werner, for this Member Spotlight. Melissa is the Executive Director at Arizona State University, in the Office of University Events and Protocol and the Office of University Ceremonies. She has been planning commencement for 23 years and has held many positions within NAACO, such as Inaugural President, Past-President, and Conference Chair in 2001, 2002, and 2007. We share our appreciation for Melissa and our founding members for their foresight and initiative in creating this organization supporting commencement officers throughout North America.



What do you love most about your work?

Being part of a major life event for graduates and their families is incredibly meaningful to me. It’s okay if those grads and guests don’t know who I am, but I know that I’ve had a hand in what I always hope is a life-long memory that is shared with others.

Have you had a previous job in the past that our readers would find interesting?

My first job out of high school was as a typesetter for a local publishing company. I am an excellent typist, but I was not cut out to sit alone and type all day. 

What do you like to do for fun when you are not planning events? 

I do a bit too much online shopping for my own good. I also love to cook. Now that my family is basically grown and flown, I try to have friends over, so I have a reason to cook for others. Lastly, I’ve learned the joy of home improvement projects, as there is always something to do.

How did you get involved in NAACO originally?

I co-founded NAACO with Carol Switzer. I can’t believe we’re getting ready to celebrate 25 years of NAACO soon! I loved being involved with the start of something that has grown so much over the years. It’s particularly wonderful to hear from colleagues who have told me what a difference being part of NAACO has made to them professionally and personally. I would hope that everyone in NAACO would get involved in some way. It’s the active participation of our members that makes the organization strong. 

What is your favorite element or part of commencement day?

I love the big conclusion to our event! Streamers and fireworks and the huge roar of the crowd. That collective celebration with tens of thousands of people all at once is incredible.

Tell us a personality trait of yours that helps you succeed in your role? 

I’ve learned how to stay calm amidst the chaos that is event planning and production. If you are the person in charge, it is your responsibility to provide a sense of calmness and authority. If you get flustered and are unable to control the situation that is presented, everyone down the line will feel that sense of chaos. Every problem has a solution, and you need to be ready to provide the answers.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure snack that gets you through the planning process? 

Years ago, I would keep Bit o’ Honey candy bars nearby because they require a lot of chewing, and that kept me focused. Recently, I alternate between sweet and salty snacks. My favorites being Almond Joy, Snickers, or a bag of chips and a soda.

Share one question/topic that you’d love other members to provide suggestions or solutions for? 

I’m most curious about how everyone communicates with their graduates. I’ve told the students I teach, “I can’t pay you to read an email!” We are working with a chatbot so text messages can be sent. However, there’s so much to communicate with grads and guests, I’d love to know how others are handling this issue. 

How do you manage your personal wellness leading up to your events? 

Admittedly, I wasn’t very good at taking care of me, but lately I have been paying more attention to my personal wellbeing. I make certain to schedule a massage not long after ceremonies end. I found that I need to take the time to clear my mind in order to get to the post-event work that has to be done and start preparing for the next round of ceremonies. 

How do you find balance in your life as a commencement officer?

I volunteer and serve on other boards. My work as a protocol officer has allowed me to get involved with Protocol Diplomacy International-Protocol Officers Association and I am currently the past-president. I’m also the current chair of the Phoenix Sister Cities Board. Having other volunteer activities allows me to see what else is happening in the world and keeps me connected to my personal and professional communities. 

How do you stay motivated when the going gets tough?

When I see someone who is really frustrated or overwhelmed in their job, I always tell them, “The sun will come up tomorrow!” It’s important to know that things will happen, no matter how hard you try to control outcomes or make everything as close to perfect as possible. I try to keep in mind that I have done all that I can to make the events I’m producing the best for everyone, and that I have a terrific team of people with whom I work to make those events happen. I rely on my colleagues to keep me motivated and I remind myself that I’ve been doing this a very long time!


Three Ways to Recharge this Summer

Amber Sega
Member, NAACO Communications and Education Committees
Director of University Commencements, California Baptist University

Often, we run ourselves ragged all school year long. After spring commencement, we tend to collapse instead of strategizing to recharge. By the time we realize we need to recharge our physical, mental, and emotional batteries, school is starting again and we are back on the crazy train headed toward burnout.

Here are three ways we can recharge this summer to prep for our next adventure in commencement!


Even though we are physically exhausted after a very long year, instead of stopping all movement, take a few days to rest our bodies, and then get moving again. Listening to the needs of your body when it requires rest and physical activity can be difficult when we have spent all year ignoring what it is asking for to focus on our work tasks. However, a balance of rest and physical activity are crucial to healing and recharging. 

Taking a break from the very labor-intensive work of commencement is necessary so that your body can heal. Your body needs the rest to repair itself. So, relax and put your feet up, get a massage or two, and eat well. During the commencement season we often eat terribly or forget to eat all together. Now is the time to get yourself back on the right track by eating nutritious and clean foods. This of course, does not mean that you should not enjoy an occasional ice cream or other sweet treats this Summer. All in moderation my friends!

After a period of rest and relaxation, be sure to keep moving this summer to stay in physical shape for your return to commencement. 30 minutes of physical activity will assist your body and organs in functioning properly by supplying oxygen to your vital organs for improved energy, digestion, and overall function. Take a daily walk in the fresh air and sunshine and soak in that Vitamin D. At least 15 minutes a day in the sunshine has also been proven to help with energy, hair loss, and pain management. 


Choosing to not make work your primary focus during the summer can be a challenge when you want to get ahead for the next season. Learning to take a mental break from work is very hard, but extremely important. Make notes of the ideas or creative thoughts that come to you during this “down time” and review these when you return to commencement for the fall. Since we cannot completely turn off our thought processes about work, make notes and then walk away from it. This allows us to be able to explore our thoughts later, while allowing our brains to recharge and concentrate on other things of importance that we may not have given attention to during the school year. 

Allowing your mind to clear the work clutter from your creative brain space is beneficial in finding a work/life balance. You will find that you have room for thinking about family, friends, remodeling, or fun hobbies that you almost forgot you enjoyed. After the mental break you will feel recharged and ready to fly into the fall!


Often, we are running through our school year so hard and focused on work we forget to check in with ourselves emotionally. Have you ever asked yourself, “When is the last time I have felt joy about anything besides an immediate work task?” It is a joy to have time to ourselves, speak with family and friends, go for walks, breathe, eat, watch movies in the park, go to concerts, binge watch tv, or read. During the summer we can choose a source of joy every day, not related to work.

Summer may even be the time to seek out a therapist to debrief your year in review with or take a meditation class or attend church or a fellowship group. Speaking to others can be emotionally energizing and help us to work through some things we have not previously had time to address. Collected emotional baggage can cause health problems both physically and mentally. It is imperative to clean house emotionally every season to avoid issues and to recharge for your upcoming commencement season.

A break is essential to our well-being in the events industry.  I truly hope that these tips will help you to remember to take the time for you and recharge physically, mentally, and emotionally for the fall. Wishing you all a beautiful rest of your summer!


Hot Topic Call: NAACO Networking Session – Spring 2023 Ceremonies: Roses, Thorns & Buds

Wednesday, July 19 | 2:00 pm–3:00 pm ET

Come and share highlights (roses), challenges (thorns), and opportunities (buds) from your Spring 2023 ceremonies. In breakout rooms, we’ll discuss what made our ceremonies successful and what opportunities lie ahead. Celebrate your achievements and gain valuable insight from fellow members on how they have managed similar issues.


Welcome New Institutions and Affiliate Members!

NAACO is the only professional association for college and university commencement and convocation officers throughout North America. Only post-secondary institutions that handle commencement, convocation, and graduation ceremonies are welcome to join.

Affiliate members are the individuals of a member institution and can be added by the primary NAACO member. We look to engage with affiliate members on NAACO Connect, on social media sites, and at upcoming events, including hot topic calls, the annual conference, and regional meetings.

Let’s welcome these institutions that are new to NAACO in 2023:

Commonwealth University
400 E. Second Street
Bloomsburg, PA 17815
George Mason University
4400 University Drive MS 3G3
Fairfax, VA 22030
Longwood University
201 High Street
Farmville, VA 23909
Missouri S&T
1051 N. Bishop Avenue
Rolla, MO 65409
University of Central Arkansas
201 Donaghey Avenue, Harrin Hall 222D
Conway, AR 72035
University of North Texas at Dallas
7400 University Hills Blvd, Office 118A
Dallas, TX 75241
Year Up
45 Milk Street
Boston, MA 02109

A complete list of member institutions can be found on the Member Institutions page.