The Mace – June 2022


President’s Update

At the Annual Membership Meeting in February, I shared that over the past year the board has developed a new 5-year strategic plan. As we have all learned, even during turbulent times there are opportunities, and as an association we want to ensure we are prepared. A summary of this plan will be posted to the members-only area of the website.

One of the results of the strategic planning process was a more defined mission statement:

NAACO sets the standard of excellence for academic ceremonies—enabling and empowering members to forge the traditions of tomorrow.

To me, this mission was never more evident than at the annual conference in Philadelphia. While a hybrid conference with the majority of members online was not what we had hoped for, under the leadership of Liz McMahan and Ellen Liebman an exceptional standard of excellence was achieved by the Conference Committee. A tremendous amount of attention and care was placed on the member experience regardless of how they were participating. The committee most definitely set a new standard of excellence that was not defined or limited by circumstances.

I also now realize that the planning of the annual conference also reflected the four major strategic outcome areas that the board will be focusing on in the coming year:

  1. Ensuring effective and sustainable operations
  2. Raising NAACO’s profile and creating value for our members
  3. Establishing NAACO as a central hub for adaptability
  4. Creating a diverse and inclusive community

By showing what could be achieved, the Conference Committee demonstrated adaptability and raised NAACO’s profile, creating incredible value with the outstanding education sessions that were offered, and yet, they did not lose sight on the need for effective and sustainable operations that will inform conference planning moving forward. Perhaps what I am most inspired by though is the commitment of our community towards building a diverse and inclusive community.

This was the first opportunity Sara Wood and her team at HQ had to experience the NAACO culture in person. They noted the warmth of the community, generosity of sharing, and had never before experienced the extent to which new members were made to feel welcome. This is a solid foundation on which to create an environment of diversity and inclusion on multiple levels, which will strengthen our community of openness, innovation, and adaptability.

Thank you all for everything that each of you bring to NAACO. We are a member-driven association, and your contributions truly make us who we are. Don’t lose sight of the resources and support that NAACO offers. Take advantage of the hot topic calls, discussion on the forum, and the incredible resources and knowledge available from our corporate sponsors.

I wish you all the best.

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


Message From Our 2022 Conference Host

Ellen Liebman
2022 Conference Host
Associate Director of Administration, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

We did it! “It” being a successful hybrid conference. For many of us, the 2020 Conference was our last in-person conference in the before-times and now the 2022 Conference has been our first in-person conference after the worst of the pandemic. Whether you were in Philadelphia or virtually attending, I hope you experienced a conference that was both valuable and interesting.

The Whova app allowed all of us to participate in sessions—to ask questions in a live session or interact with other conference folks. Virtual attendees even had a chance to go on a livestreamed campus tour of the University of Pennsylvania (hosted by yours truly, filmed by Mike Treretola, and facilitated by James Cuaresma), which was likely more in depth than the in-person one! If you missed a session, I hope you had an opportunity to watch it while still available on the app.

Finally, I want to give a special shout out to the Conference Committee. They all did an amazing job of pulling together in essence two conferences—and both were phenomenal!!


Featured on CBC Radio

For many graduates of college or university, few moments compare to the reading of their names as they receive their diploma. But sometimes that momentous event can be tarnished if their names are not pronounced correctly. It’s an issue post-secondary institutions are struggling with, especially as Canada’s student population becomes more diverse.

Hear from our very own NAACO President Claire Alexander as she discusses the growing trend of schools turning to professional name readers. Listen here.


Top Takeaways From the 2022 Conference

Christine Le
Ceremonies & Communications Coordinator, York University

This year’s annual NAACO conference was an invaluable learning experience. The hybrid event offered a range of topics that were reflective of the changing landscape. Attendees left Philadelphia and virtual attendees logged off Whova feeling inspired by our colleagues and with a few takeaways to help guide us through the year to come.

Learning about other institution’s experiences and their preparations for commencement provided some reassurance that, despite increasing uncertainty, there are always precautions that we can take to better prepare ourselves. As event planners, we know that only one thing is certain—nothing ever goes 100% according to plan! Ideas around contingency planning and scenario planning were certainly welcome for those who are now planning in-person ceremonies for the first time in two years. As the integration of technology in our processes continues to increase and new technology becomes available, it was important to be reminded that having physical back up plans in place can help protect us from technical failings.

At one of the education sessions, we had the opportunity to learn about Dalhousie’s inspiring work to champion diversity, including the decommission and redesign of their ceremonial mace. Although every institution is different, creating more diverse and inclusive events requires change and this can be challenging when coupled with the responsibility of preserving tradition. A key takeaway from this session is that we can always strive to be better and continuously improve. As we learned from our opening keynote, rituals can be changed. During the conference, conversations were also sparked around making music more diverse, incorporating indigenous protocol, improving representation on stage, and more.

For new attendees, discovering a sense of comradery and the wealth of knowledge held by our members was a highlight on its own. Conversations over meals or over Zoom were great opportunities to discuss problems that others may have already faced and share recommendations and resources. The conference also allowed us to connect with neighboring institutions and stay in the loop about what members in our region have planned.

At the end of the 3-day conference, our closing keynote speaker, Sarada Peri, said “A speech about everything is a speech about nothing.” This statement really resonated and is something to keep in mind when working with speakers and speech writers. Sarada also made some key points about understanding your audience and the importance of personal connections that can also be applied in other forms of communication beyond speech writing.

There was certainly no shortage of food for thought at the conference. If you find yourself mulling over some of the new ideas or learnings you collected, there is always the opportunity to consult with other members through NAACO Connect.


Top-Rated Conference Sessions

These sessions were the most highly rated in follow up surveys. Hopefully you were able to catch them live or on the Whova app afterwards. In case you missed them, they’re posted on the members-only site. Once logged in, select “Conference Presentation Archive” then “2022 Annual Conference Presentations.”

Activating Your Graduation Through Branding

Diversity Isn’t Only an Admissions Issue—How Can We Make All Spaces Inclusive on Campus?

Planning for the Pivot: Being Prepared for Anything


New to NAACO, Involved and Inspired!
Kristi Vanoy
Director, Special Events, American University

I first became aware of the North American Association of Commencement Officers (NAACO) in 2017. New to my position, both in the D.C. area and in presidential inauguration planning, I became the lead planner of the inauguration ceremony for our incoming president. In less than 90 days, I was intimately familiar with NAACO, its forums, events, and top contributors. Just as quickly, this community became a leading resource for every annual traditional event assigned to my portfolio. However, it was not until February 13, 2022, that I had the privilege of talking to many of you in person.

For years I watched the annual conference come and go. With limited funding, I never received the go-ahead to attend the NAACO conference in person. In January 2022, I received an email encouraging NAACO members to apply for a conference scholarship. I feverously submitted my application and patiently waited for my chance to be in person. To my surprise and delight, I was selected!

The ease of the scholarship application process directly translated to the incredible experience I had as a first-time attendee. My time in Philadelphia began the day before the start of the conference as a volunteer. I arrived and was greeted warmly and then proceeded to the ballroom, where many NAACO officers sat discussing the week’s assignments. We downloaded the fabulous Whova app and mapped out our sessions for the next few days.

Volunteering quickly plugged me into the heartbeat of the onsite cohort, and I made connections while greeting attendees, introducing speakers to the in-person and virtual audiences, and facilitating our off-site campus tour. It was not long until I realized that many of the people who had offered advice to me over the past five years were right there beside me, in the room and online.

Each session brought a unique perspective, encouraging us to approach this new normal with creativity and collaboration. As the hours turned into days, I began to feel lighter and more energized than I had in years. My higher education colleagues uplifted everyone they came in contact with, and the support was tangible. This week showed me that my network ran deep, and their support would follow me home long after the conference concluded.

I was told this year was different. It certainly might have been, but all I knew was that my online support network had come alive.

So, while each of us might feel as if we should be getting back to normal, remember there is someone, somewhere, experiencing a tradition for the first time. They will never know what came before, but just like me, they will catch the vision, excited that what comes next will only ever be the best yet!


NAACO Cares Grows a Musical Flower
Liz McMahan
Manager, Convocation & Special Projects, York University

Each year, NAACO selects a local charity and asks attendees to make contributions to that organization. Designating a NAACO Cares charity is a way for us to demonstrate appreciation for our host city and to honour the work of the charity. Settlement Music School provides the Greater Philadelphia region with education in music, dance, and the creative arts and over 60% of their participants receive scholarships to attend. Settlement was selected as this year’s charity for their work in music—an underlying conference theme—and education.

Attendees were asked to donate to Settlement’s new Playformance space, an outdoor gather place and playground, with a goal of raising $1,500 to purchase a musical flower gong for children. Attendees could donate a minimum of $5 at the Night Out event to request a song from the musical group playing at the event

In total, we raised $1,675 for Settlement from in-person and virtual attendees and the flower gong will stand as a permanent reminder of NAACO’s time in Philadelphia. The musical flower will be dedicated this month.


The Senses Came Alive in Philadelphia

Here’s what attendees had to say about attending the conference in-person and enjoying the tastes, sights, and sounds of Philly:

“I thoroughly enjoyed our session where guests were given a color that broke them down into groups that met and discussed what they hoped to get out of the conference. I was able to then use that to connect those attendees with resources throughout the conference to help them accomplish that.”

“Loved the NAACO Night Out at the National Constitution Center! The food, the music, and reconnecting with friends was wonderful!”

“Being next door to the Reading Terminal Marker was amazing! I made a few trips to try the coffee, DeNic’s roast port sandwich, Miller’s breakfast pretzel, Beiler’s doughnuts (lemon cream!), Termini Brothers for family gifts, and By George for their cheesesteak.”

“The University of Pennsylvania tour was well-organized, and I enjoyed walking the beautiful campus.”

“There should be a monument for the Philadelphia Cheesesteak.”

“Cheesesteaks live up to their reputation, but how could anyone eat a whole one?”

“My highlight was the networking and great live conversations!”

“Being live makes the experience so much more special. I hope that we are all live next year in Vancouver!”


Plan to Join Us in Vancouver!


Time for Good News!

After a challenging spring, it’s time for the NAACO Community to share our successes and celebrate as a community! Tell us about your personal or professional achievements on NAACO Connect so that we can smile and celebrate with you!


Relax, Restore, Renew

After months of stressful long days, our end-of-year ceremonies and celebrations are over or are soon to be! It’s time to relax, restore, and renew. Now is the time to take care of you!!

Like cooling down after a lengthy run, it doesn’t happen quickly. It can take a few days or even weeks to get yourself balanced. You may have skipped making doctor visits, missed bedtime routines with your kids, or doing laundry for yourself.

Restore balance and harmony to your life with your favorite pleasures. Go back to familiar routines that you enjoy, like going for walks during lunch hour, connecting with friends and family, or maybe it’s going out of your way for a favorite cup of coffee or a summer brew, now that the weather is turning to mild days.

When you’re ready to reconnect with the NAACO community and pick up on educating yourself about academic ceremonies, we’ll be here for you!


Update From NAACO Headquarters

First, I would like to say good luck to anyone who still has spring ceremonies this season. Also, to those who have just gotten through their ceremonies, I hope you are taking a well-deserved break! I know this is a busy time of year for NAACO members, and I wish you all the best as things begin to wind down. On the NAACO front, we are about ready to send out renewals for the 2022–23 year. The official expiration date is July 31, but renewals will be open soon if you would like to renew early.

Speaking of starting off the new year, be on the lookout for the call for volunteers for this year’s committee cycle! The board has been hard at work revising all of the committee charters, and NAACO will be reaching out to the membership for help filling some key roles for both ongoing and new projects. Whether you are a new or returning volunteer, there will be a place for you in this year’s workplan.

If you have questions about the upcoming renewal or call for volunteers, please email us at


Sara L. Wood, MBA, CAE

NAACO Executive Director