The Mace – March 2023


Message From the President

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

Dear NAACO Colleagues,

Spring is upon us and soon we will be welcoming excited grads and their families to our campuses to celebrate their achievements. Before we turn our attention to our busiest time of the year, I want to recognize the more than 275 of you who made the journey to Vancouver last month for our first fully in-person annual conference since 2020. It was wonderful to be back together again to share ideas, make new connections, and be inspired. Our volunteer committees did an outstanding job of programming informative educational sessions, creating engaging networking and social events, making sure we had all the information we needed, and embedding the local cultural so thoughtfully throughout the conference. If you were not able to make it to Vancouver – or if you want to revisit some of the sessions with your colleagues – I hope you will take advantage of our new Virtual Pass which will give members access to conference educational sessions until the end of July. 

At our Annual Membership Meeting in Vancouver, I shared an update on our strategic plan and the particular focus that the Board has taken this year to ensure NAACO is a diverse and inclusive community. We have been working with DEI consultant Sharon Newport who has helped guide us in creating a plan to address this goal, and we were honoured that Sharon was able to join us in Vancouver to share some of her experience and expertise by serving as our opening keynote speaker. We want to make sure that all parts of the commencement community are represented within our association, including in the education that we provide and at our leadership tables. To help us with this work we must better understand who our members are – and who is missing – as we continue to grow the organization through a lens of inclusion. I encourage you to complete the annual membership survey, whose data will help the Board understand the landscape of the membership to ensure that needs are better understood across all segments. A digest of the survey results will be released to the membership that will include next steps based on the information provided. 

At our Membership Meeting we also elected officers who will start their terms on the Board of Directors in August. I would like to congratulate and thank Melissa Picher-Kelly who joins the Board as Director-at-Large for Membership and Claudia Dávila, who has served on the Board since 2019 and who will step into the role of President-Elect. 

We are a member-driven association, and the contributions of each of our members make us who we are; thank you for everything that you bring to NAACO. And please make sure to take advantage of the benefits that NAACO offers as we head into one of the busiest times of the year. Whether it is through the online forum NAACO Connect, a Hot Topics call, or by reaching out to one of our corporate partners, your association is here to connect you with the resources and knowledge to help support you. 

Wishing you all the best for a safe and successful new year with your upcoming spring ceremonies!


Looking Back at the NAACO 2023 Conference!

James Vitagliano
President-Elect, NAACO Board of Directors
Associate Dean of Enrollment Services, MGH Institute of Health Professions

Liz King
Conference Committee Chair, NAACO

Director, Ceremonies and Events, University of British Columbia

Greetings NAACO members!  We are thrilled to be reflecting on our recent 2023 conference, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  

Jim: I would like to begin by thanking our 2023 Conference Committee, led by chair Liz King from the University of British Columbia. The incredible work of this committee in coordination with the Membership and Education Committees and the Board of Directors, helped to provide an outstanding conference experience. A special thank you goes out to Claire Alexander, our current Past-President and Liz McMahan, our current President for their incredible leadership and mentorship.  NAACO is better because of you!

This year’s conference welcomed 73 new attendees and had a total of 279 attendees, of which 243 were representing 142 different Institutions and 36 representing 13 different vendors. Thank you all, for joining us!

Liz: We were grateful to be hosted on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations during our conference. Our thanks to Elder Larry Grant and Drummer John Stogan for the warm welcome during our opening ceremony and to Elder William Nahanee for greeting and welcoming us to the top of Grouse Mountain. 

Our theme of “Strong Foundations and Expanding Horizons” was reflected in our education and keynote sessions and helped to shape many of the conversations that took place surrounding our foundational knowledge and new and creative ideas for the future. We also took note of your engagement online and in particular through the conference app – we know that you were enjoying your time exploring and learning over the course of our time together. Conference materials, attendee photos, sponsor and contact information will remain available in the app until Saturday, April 15, 2023.

Jim: Some highlights of the conference were as follows:

  • An outstanding opening session celebrating 3 years of Certificate Program graduates
  • 15 education sessions providing enriching content and conversation
  • 6 educational panels moderated by association members.  Links to recorded sessions can be found by:
    1. Logging in to your NAACO account: under Member Login
    2. Once in your profile, click on “Member Resources” and from the drop-down select “Resource Library”
    3. This will take you to a new webpage. You may need to click on “Login” again in the upper right-hand corner. The site will log you in using your NAACO log-in.
    4. There will be a tile that says “2023 Annual Conference Recordings” select “Details”.
    5. This will open a page with all the recordings listed as lessons. When you click on the title it will open the video. Please note that some presentations are listed in two parts.
  • Outstanding Opening and Closing Keynote addresses focusing on DEIA and wellness
  • Networking sessions and Regional Meetings with more in-depth and localized conversations
  • The incredible Night Out experience at Grouse Mountain, including an outstanding performance by M’Girl, graciously sharing Indigenous music and culture
  • An incredibly successful NAACO Cares campaign raising $3,290 which will help to provide more than 100 new backpacks and school supplies to children supported by VAFCS
  • The election of our new President-Elect, Claudia Dávila, University of Arizona and our new Director-at-Large for Membership, Melissa Picher-Kelly, British Columbia Institute of Technology
  • Corporate Showcases with our most supportive vendors
  • And most importantly, powerful networking and friendship building experiences for all – be sure to check out event photos captured by GradImages, available online here

For those in attendance, I’m sure you can agree that we all walked away from this conference knowing that our shared expertise always provides an outstanding platform for enrichment and growth for all levels of experience within our membership.  It was clear throughout the conference that our newer colleagues along with our more seasoned members, were able to interact, share experiences, and motivate leadership opportunities that will help to strengthen our knowledge base and provide exciting new possibilities for the future of NAACO.  

Liz: If you were unable to attend in 2023, we hope to see you in 2024 in Fort Worth, Texas! As we all continue to build our “New Normal” and find ways of building on our foundations through creativity and innovation, balancing the traditions that are so important to our institutions and graduates, it is critical that we support each other’s work and share our experiences. This can be accomplished in our conference setting and throughout the year at regional meetings, hot topics sessions, and through NAACO connect.  

Jim: The NAACO membership grows and thrives because of you, so continue to engage, participate, share, and always remember who we are – the only association dedicated to establishing, fostering, and promoting the highest possible standards of excellence for the creation and execution of commencement, convocation, and other academic ceremonies. We do all of this through the education and professional development of individuals charged with leadership, planning, oversight, and implementation at post-secondary educational institutions.  So, share the word with colleagues who are not currently members and encourage their Institution to become part of our unique and dynamic association!

Thank you to all of our membership for your continued participation and support. YOU ARE NAACO!!


Reflections on Conference Keynote, Sharon Newport, CAE

James Vitagliano
President-Elect, NAACO Board of Directors

Associate Dean of Enrollment Services, MGH Institute of Health Professions

Having been introduced to Sharon Newport through her DEIA work with our NAACO Board of Directors, there was excitement about what Sharon would share around our collective DEIA work going forward.  Besides being an extremely dynamic and animated speaker, Sharon brought her expertise as an organizational consultant, facilitator, speaker, and executive coach by sharing thoughts on transformational change. During her keynote, the room was clearly enveloped in her words and the sense of empowerment to be more transformational leaders was evident. 

Some of the key themes of her talk helped us to reflect on our comfort levels and inspired us to think more about growth than complacency. She reminded us that moving from comfort to growth means that we must cross through fear and think more about the concept of building with and not for. She also noted that when we move into new spaces, we must allow for creativity and learn from our mistakes.  Her emphasis on the importance of surrounding ourselves with people that are different and people that are similar to us, highlighted the importance of all-around inclusivity and opportunities to celebrate differences.  Her closing remark, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” should serve as inspiration to each of us. For NAACO, that statement will help us realize our DEIA goals and strategies and to think more openly about how we can become transformational leaders!

We hope that you take part in the many opportunities to catch up with an old colleague, share an idea with a colleague, meet a new colleague, and most importantly learn something new.


New to NAACO, Building Connections!

Kara Crampton
Events Assistant, The University of British Columbia, Okanagan

I joined the Ceremonies and Events team at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan just in time to miss our June graduation ceremonies. My first experience with graduation was our ‘Make-Up Ceremonies’ hosted in November for our 2020 and 2021 graduates that only had virtual ceremonies – I completed my bachelor’s in 2020, so I also participated – and those ceremonies were far from typical. So, with minimal experience, I came to the NAACO Annual Conference in Vancouver ready to learn and meet new people.

The first thing I noticed was how welcoming and excited each and every person I met was. I attended the New to NAACO Meet and Greet on Sunday evening. Even within a group of new members, people were eager to participate. Some people were as new as I was to their roles and some had been in their role for a few years, but had never had the opportunity to attend the conference. 

There were many opportunities to connect, especially during breakfast and lunch. Even between sessions, I found myself approaching a table where other people were standing and conversations just began to flow. I was always able to find someone to discuss the prior session, an upcoming session, or personal experiences. I learned much about what other institutions do and brought back ideas to be implemented at my own. I made connections with people and I can confidently say I now have colleagues I can reach out to when I am looking to do something different and need advice or just support. 

I would strongly urge anyone new to NAACO and anyone who has not attended a conference yet or has attended but not reached beyond their comfort zone, to attend with curiosity and a willingness to learn. There is so much I walked away with, just by starting a conversation with people I didn’t know. I encourage everyone to initiate these conversations on Connect, social sites and at future in-person meetings!


Building a Strong Volunteer Program: Strategies for Recruitment, Incentivization, and Retention

Yvonne Moar
Associate Director of Commencement and University Events, California State University, Fullerton

A very important topic came up during the NAACO 2023 Annual Conference – volunteers. A group of us discussed strategies to increase our volunteer numbers, incentivize our volunteers, and retain them. We quickly realized that, as with most things, each institution has its own way of supporting their volunteer needs for ceremonies. Some institutions use staff, faculty, alumni, or any combination of those groups. The discussion made us think about our own strategies, how to add to current efforts, and perhaps change what we are doing all together to recruit more volunteers. Here are some ideas to consider for institutions looking to evolve their commencement volunteer program:

Recruiting Volunteers: 

  • Include a “service requirement” in Faculty contracts so that volunteering at commencement checks that off for the year. 
  • Make commencement a mandatory event for some members of staff.
  • Have key volunteer leads assist in recruiting for their specific volunteer area. They reach out to others positively and persuasively to join their team.  

Incentivizing Volunteers:

  • Record a video of all the faculty/staff volunteering so that those who haven’t volunteered can see what the day(s) is about and can see how much fun it can be. This could also feature appreciative graduates and their families. 
  • Compensate time or adjust work schedules for staff the day they are working. 
  • Provide branded shirts to those who volunteer for visibility to graduates and guests. 
  • Offer a meal and snacks to all who volunteer. 

Retaining Volunteers:

  • Host a special thank you luncheon or social for all volunteers after commencement. 
  • Give out volunteer pins that can be pinned on a lanyard. Each year the volunteers collect a new pin (á la Disney style). Showing off the pins they have accumulated for volunteering can become a point of pride for volunteers. 

University of California, Irvine volunteer proudly holds lanyard decorated with pins accumulated through years of service. 

So back to the drawing board we go to continue to seek ways to recruit volunteers and incentivize them to return. Frankly, we could not run commencement without all the wonderful volunteers who help make this day (or days) celebratory for our graduates and their families.  We learn, adapt, and change every year, always looking forward to the ever-evolving world that is commencement. We look forward to learning from our colleagues and continuing to connect through NAACO to put our discussions, ideas, and concepts into action at commencement ceremonies across North America. 


NAACO Member Spotlight with Kevin Gemoets

Heather Violett
Member, NAACO Communications Committee

Events Manager, Academic Affairs, University of Massachusetts Global

This quarter we welcome Kevin Gemoets as our Member Spotlight feature. Kevin is the Director of University Events at Northern Arizona University (NAU). He has been with the University for 22 years in various roles and has been planning commencement for the past year and a half in the Office of the President. Although he is relatively new to the commencement world and to NAACO, he was eager to begin his volunteer journey by joining the Communications Committee.


What do you love most about your work?

Leading an amazing team of professionals who are passionate about the work we do and who are creative beyond measure. 

What’s your best piece of advice for our NAACO community planning ceremonies and events?

Relationships, relationships, relationships. We can’t do this alone and need to make sure we are celebrating those who help us along the way.

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

I love walking my dogs, skiing, and watching anything on HGTV.

What is your favorite element or part of commencement day? What is your least favorite? 

My favorite part is working with our team to get everything ready in the Skydome. My least favorite is the worry I put myself through hoping all of the scripts are correct on stage. Colleagues tease me because I will check them multiple times prior to the start, and they will even send me texts that they felt a breeze that may have blown a page.

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

I love me some peanut butter M&Ms! So, I don’t keep them around much, as they can be dangerous.

What topic would you like to learn more about from our members?

I’d love to learn more about incorporating technology into commencement ceremonies. We are a bit behind the times and are excited to use the summer to explore how we can bring our ceremonies into this century. 

Share your favorite NAACO benefit.

It’s great to be surrounded by people who do what we do. No one else on campus, or off campus for that matter, has any idea what it takes to pull off successful commencement ceremonies. 

How do you manage your personal wellness, and the wellness of your team, leading up to your events? 

I want people to get the heck out of the office. If they must stay late, they better have a good excuse. If they work through lunch, I prefer that they leave a little early. After big events we make sure to take some flex time as well. I try my best to model these expectations for my team.

What’s your NAACO origin story?

Coming into the events role with little to no experience in commencement, other than volunteering as a marshal, I immediately utilized the website and NAACO Connect. I quickly realized the NAACO community is here to help and there is a wealth of knowledge within the group just waiting to be shared. 

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

First, I keep perspective by reminding myself that what we do is not life or death. Second, I take advantage of the down times, such as winter break and summer for us, to truly get away.

What is something about you that might surprise people?

Traveling to the 2023 conference in Vancouver was the first time I ever used a passport.


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:

College of Charleston
66 George Street
Charleston, SC 29424 USA
Concordia University Chicago
7400 Augusta St. River
Forest, IL 60305
Niagara College
100 Niagara College Boulevard, Welland
Ontario L3C 7L3, Canada
Trine University
One University Avenue
Angola, IN 46703
  University of South Carolina Upstate
800 University Way
Spartanburg, SC 29303

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


Update From NAACO Headquarters

Sara L. Wood
Executive Director, NAACO

First, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of the volunteers, speakers, and members, who made our annual conference such a resounding success. Your dedication, hard work, and commitment to excellence were instrumental in creating an event that was informative, engaging, and truly memorable. I encourage you to read the wrap-up pieces in this quarter’s MACE to learn more!

As we reflect on this year’s conference, I am reminded of the importance of our organization and the vital role it plays in supporting the work of commencement officers across the continent. It is clear that we are stronger when we work together, and I am confident that we will continue to build on the successes of this conference in the years to come.

Coming soon will be our renewal cycle that begins in late May, so please be on the lookout for communications about that as your spring events come to a close. On that front, as we look forward to the spring and the start of the commencement season, I want to wish everyone the best of luck with their upcoming ceremonies. May they be successful, meaningful, and memorable occasions for all involved, and may the hard work and dedication of our members continue to be recognized and celebrated.

Thank you again to all of our volunteers, and to all of our members for your ongoing support and commitment to excellence. It is an honor to serve as your Executive Director, and I look forward to continuing our work together as this school year comes to a close.


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