The Mace -March 2024

Message from the President March 2024 MACE

James V. Vitagliano
President, NAACO Board of Directors
Associate Dean of Enrollment Services/Registrar, MGH Institute of Health Professions

As we begin to welcome in spring, a time for new beginnings, I think of a William Shakespeare quote – “April hath put a spirit of youth in everything”. How appropriate as we think about the excitement that our young and vibrant students will experience as we begin to celebrate their achievements over the next few months. As you prepare for our busy season, I want to step back and recognize the more than 320 of you who joined us in Fort Worth last month at our annual conference. I was inspired by the excitement of our members as they participated in engaging education sessions and vibrant networking and social events. Our volunteer committees did a wonderful job of creating an excellent experience throughout the conference. If you were unable to attend, or if you want to revisit some of the sessions presented by your colleagues, I hope that you will take advantage of our Virtual Pass which provides members with access to conference educational sessions until the end of July.

At our Membership Meeting in Fort Worth, I provided an update on our strategic goals and emphasized our continued commitment to develop effective and sustainable operations, raise NAACO’s profile and create value, to be the central hub for adaptability, and to be a diverse and inclusive community. The primary drivers for this last goal are a desire to include all parts of the community, find new ways to grow the organization through the lens of inclusion, and explore what academic ceremony excellence looks like in a modern era. We are also committed to being a full representation of post-secondary commencement and recognize that at this moment there is great opportunity for growth. As part of this work, we have been conducting our membership survey. We will continue to use the data collected to help the Board to further understand the landscape of the membership and to ensure that needs are better understood across all segments. I encourage everyone to participate in the survey and look forward to continuing to update you on the work that we are doing in this area and throughout our strategic plan.

Also at our Membership Meeting, we elected officers who will start their terms as Board of Directors members in August. I want to congratulate and thank Lacy Dailey who will join as Director-at-Large for Communications, Sondra Schwartz who will continue on the Board as Treasurer, and Marcus Jones who will assume the role of President-Elect.

Our members are our greatest assets and the knowledge and expertise that each of you bring makes us who we are. I thank each of you for all that you bring to NAACO! Be sure to take advantage of the benefits that NAACO offers as we head into our busiest time of 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. 

I wish you all a safe and successful year and may your upcoming ceremonies bring that “spirit of youth” into all that we do!

Looking Back at the 2024 NAACO Annual Conference!

Claudia Y. Dávila
President- Elect, NAACO Board of Directors
Director, Commencement and Ceremonies, University of Arizona

We are elated to reflect on the resounding success of our recent NAACO 2024 Annual Conference, held in the vibrant city of Fort Worth, Texas.

First and foremost, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the dedicated individuals comprising the 2024 Conference Work Group, which collaborates with the Directors at Large and their associated committees, including Communications, Education, and Membership, our newly launched Event Experience committee, and our Past-President representing our sponsors. Their unwavering commitment ensured the seamless execution of this year’s conference, which welcomed 73 new attendees and boasted a total of 329 participants, representing 156 different institutions and 18 vendors. Thank you all for your invaluable contributions!

We also express our sincere appreciation to the Native American peoples who have stewarded the land on which we convened, particularly the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. Additionally, we extend our admiration to Carolyn Knight, a freshman from Paul Quinn College, whose remarkable renditions of the Canadian and US national anthems added a touch of brilliance to our conference.

Under the theme of “Inspiring Big Ideas,” our educational sessions and keynote addresses ignited invigorating discussions surrounding foundational knowledge and innovative concepts for the future.

We were delighted to witness your active engagement both online and through the conference app, as you immersed yourselves in learning and exploration throughout our time together. Conference materials, attendee photos, sponsor information, and contact information will remain accessible in the app until May 15, 2024.

Highlights of the conference included:

  • An exceptional opening session celebrating 7 Certificate Program graduates.
  • 22 enriching education sessions fostering meaningful conversations.
  • 4 educational panels moderated by esteemed association members.
  • Noteworthy keynote addresses were delivered by Catherine Price on “The Power of Fun” and Evan Schaefer on “Large Scale or Small Scale; How to Create an Effective Production and Operations Plan.”
  • Our networking sessions and regional meetings facilitated deeper, localized conversations.
  • The NAACO Cares campaign in support of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth garnered generous contributions toward education programs.

The Corporate Showcases provided invaluable opportunities for engagement with our supportive vendors, and the networking experiences fostered lasting friendships.

For those unable to attend this year, we extend a warm invitation to join us in 2025 in Long Beach, California!

As we navigate the evolving landscape of our field, let us continue to build upon our foundations while embracing innovation. Your shared expertise serves as a beacon for enrichment and growth at all levels of our membership.

The cultivation of experiences among our diverse members inspires meaningful conversations and connections, inspiring us all to pursue leadership opportunities that fortify our knowledge base and propel NAACO toward a vibrant future.

As we move forward, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting one another, both during our conferences and throughout the year via regional meetings, hot topics sessions, and NAACO Connect.

To our esteemed membership, your continued participation and support are the cornerstones of our association’s success. Remember, YOU ARE NAACO!

Let us share the spirit of NAACO with colleagues and institutions, inviting them to join our unique and dynamic community dedicated to excellence in academic ceremonies.

Thank you all for your unwavering dedication and enthusiasm.


Thank you to everyone who participated in making our “Why NAACO” video. The Communications Committee members did a spectacular job shooting and editing it, and we’re excited to share it with the NAACO Community!

NAACO 2024 Annual Conference Takeaways

Lacy Dailey
Chair, NAACO Communications Committee
University Events Manager, American Public University System

From engaging education sessions to conversations over breakfast and lunch, the attendees of the NAACO 2024 Annual Conference left with plenty of ideas and inspiration. In their own words, here are some of the attendees’ top takeaways.

In reference to volunteer recruitment: “I loved Anne’s recommendation from the University of Buffalo to have your Dean/Provost send an email to staff and/or faculty saying “I really want you to be there” in an effort to encourage people to work commencement.”

“I appreciated hearing from Laura from Southern New Hampshire University about her tips and tricks for volunteers, such as her promotional video marketing to encourage staff to work commencement, fanny packs for staff with all the important necessities (bobby pins, safety pins, tissues, pencils, etc.), and the volunteer “shout outs” (aka kudos) they give each other after the ceremony.”

“Several education sessions mentioned the significant impact of having an executive planning committee. This committee ensures buy-in from other internal partners and makes additional resources available to commencement and convocations. Years ago, there was such a committee here and it seems the time has come to re-establish one.”

“Having a commencement manual that is universal enough for any volunteer, staff, or faculty to be able to understand it. A couple of universities shared theirs in the Whova app”.

“I want to switch to digital programs. We spend about $20,000 on programs only, but our new (ish) VP for student affairs is all about looking at the budget and seeing where we can save. So I will likely push the digital program idea on him and I’m hoping that he will agree to that.”

“On the note of grad fairs. When available, pairing them with a career fair can greatly increase attendance and vendor partnership!”

Overall, attendees took away ideas about volunteers, print vs. digital programs, event planning, communication, staging, and so much more. We encourage you to continue the conversations on NAACO Connect now and throughout the year. See you in Long Beach at the NAACO 2025 Annual Conference!

Learning “The Power of Fun” with Catherine Price

Sariah Tillotson
Member, NAACO Education Committee
Assistant Registrar, Graduation Services, University of Nevada, Reno

Conference attendees were graced with the inspiration and insightfulness of opening keynote speaker, Catherine Price, who taught that “fun is the secret to feeling alive”. Catherine is a renowned journalist, speaker, and author, with her latest book, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, the main message of her talk. She kept the audience captivated and engaged as she expounded three main points: 1) Fun is a feeling not an activity, 2) Fun is energizing, and 3) How do you have fun? She pointed out that fun is energizing, boosts resilience, unites us, builds trust, culture & community, and makes us healthier and happy. Each one of us must find what makes things fun for us.

As commencement planners, we know how exciting commencement day can be for graduating students and their families; yet, we also know how strenuous, exhausting, challenging, complicated, and stressful it can be for the planners. It is important to find the “fun” or delight in what we are doing. Catherine talked about noticing and sharing those moments that brought you delight. She provided suggestions of creating a “Delight Jar” with paper strips where you can write something that has delighted you that day; start a “delight” text chain; create fun or delight for someone else; or maybe even have a rebel moment, or as she coined it, a Ferris Bueller moment. Go outside the box. NAACO members were challenged to fill their lives with more playfulness, connection, and laughter. It is necessary to prioritize fun – treat it as if it were an important work task. She reminded us that “novelty is often fun, bad experiences in the moment can be good stories afterwards, and don’t be afraid to look dumb!”.

Catherine Price ended her speech with a quote from Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” There is power in fun. Make space for it. Prioritize it. Fun is sunshine. What has delighted you today? Share it in NAACO Connect Delight Jar.

NAACO Member Spotlight with Theawiana Bracewell

Heather Violett
Member, NAACO Communications Committee
Events Manager, Academic Affairs, University of Massachusetts Global


We are pleased to share our next Member Spotlight is Theawiana N. Bracewell from Oakland University. She is the Director of Academic Events in the Office of Academic Affairs. She has been planning commencement for 12 years and currently supports NAACO as a member of the Education Committee. 

What do you love most about your work?
I love being able to create a meaningful experience for graduates and their families. To see their smile on graduation day is the best.

What’s your best piece of advice for our NAACO community planning ceremonies and events?
Be kind, be patient, be flexible, take a deep breath, and have a sense of humor. Always enjoy a laugh with your staff to try to lighten the load.

Have you had a previous job in the past that our readers would find interesting?
I have had a lot of jobs. I worked part-time for 19 years at Kohl’s Department Stores, while also planning commencement. I cannot remember how I was able to balance it all, but I did it.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of commencement day?
My favorite part of commencement day is our bagpipers at the beginning and end of each ceremony. It is so exciting to hear them play. My least favorite part is trying to clear the building, because no one ever wants to leave.

Tell us a personality trait of yours that helps you succeed in your role
I am very detailed, organized, and can think fast on my feet. I believe all these traits help me pivot well and think outside the box in a pinch.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure that gets you through the planning process?
I love popcorn! Specifically, the Better Made Movie Theatre Popcorn and Better Made Detroit Popcorn mix (cheddar and caramel). I can eat a whole bag in one sitting.

What is a work challenge that keeps you up at night?
The thing that keeps me up at night is guest tickets. Our venue is really small, and my biggest fear is that we will run out of seats for our guests. I’d love to hear how other universities manage tickets in small venues with limited seating.

How do you manage the wellness of you and your team leading up to your events?
I always encourage the team to take walks and talk to each other as we face pivotable moments and deadlines.

Share your favorite NAACO benefit.
The best benefit is the networking with other members. I have been fortunate to meet so many wonderful people that I can email, ask questions, request example documents, and ask for tips on how to handle certain challenges. It helps to know deep down in my heart that I am not alone in my journey as a commencement officer. I strongly encourage everyone to start a conversation with a NAACO member. You will be amazed at the recommendations and experiences they can share. Lifelong friendships can also develop from bonding over commencement.

How do you stay motivated when the going gets tough?
I think of the reason why I get up each day. There is good in people, and I know that I am a good person, and my intentions are pure. Additionally, when families say thank you and appreciate the hard work I’ve put in, it makes it all worthwhile.

What is something about you that might surprise people?
I love couponing! I am an avid shopper and love finding deals. I once went to CVS and my bill was $187.57 and with my coupons and buying things on sale, I left only spending $3.54. That was a proud moment for me and made my husband a believer in the importance of coupons.

How do you find balance in your life as a commencement officer?
I make sure that I take the time I need to relax and rejuvenate. Massages, facials, pedicures, and most importantly spending time with my grandbabies. My grandbabies make me laugh and bring so much joy to my life.

In Memoriam: Jane Smith

Jane Smith, 2009 Massey Award winner at the Doctoral Hooding ceremony at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In addition to being a founding member of NAACO, Jane Smith was the President-Elect from 2008 to 2009 and President from 2009 to 2010.

Read about her accomplishments

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:

Allegheny College
520 N. Main Street Box V Meadville, United States 1633
Camosun College
4461 Interurban Road Communications & Marketing Victoria, BC V9E 2C1
Central Piedmont Community College P.O.
Box 35009 Charlotte, NC 28235
Fitchburg State University
160 Pearl St. Fitchburg, MA 1420
Mount Saint Vincent University
Registrar’s Office, Evaristus Hall, Room 207 166 Bedford Hwy Halifax, NS B4G 1G2
University of Kentucky
160 Avenue of Champions Suite 150 A Lexington, KY 40506

Let’s welcome these institutions back to NAACO:

Delaware State
1200 N. DuPont Highway 4th Administration Building Dover, DE 19901
Douglass College
700 Royal Ave New Westminster, BC V3M 5Z5
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
677 Huntington, Ave Boston, MA 2115
Texas Tech University
1701 Indiana Ave Lubbock, TX 79409
University of Lethbridge
4401 University Drive Lethbridge, AB T1K 3M4
Ontario Institute of Technology
2000 Simcoe St. N. Oshawa, ON L1G 0C5
Vanderbilt University
310 25th Ave S Nashville, TN 37240

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

Update from NAACO Headquarters 

Sara L. Wood
Executive Director, NAACO

Thank you all again for attending the NAACO Annual Conference in Fort Worth! As we head into the spring season, the NAACO HQ team will pivot to supporting members through the commencement season and preparing for the next membership year. If you have not yet done so, please take the membership survey . This information will help guide leadership in developing benefits and resources that serve the community. 

Also, this spring, we will launch the call for proposals for the 2025 NAACO Annual Conference in Long Beach. Keep this in mind as you go through your ceremonies this season—your experience may be perfect for a session next year! Lastly, staff will turn to membership renewals, which will be available this June. Thank you all again for attending the conference this year, and on behalf of the entire NAACO HQ staff, we wish you the best of luck in the coming spring commencement season!