The Mace – November 2023


Message from the President November 2023 MACE

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

As we conclude our summer season and begin a new academic year, I hope that you are feeling re-energized and excited about what is ahead of you. Your NAACO Board of Directors is ready for an exciting year ahead and looks forward to providing our membership with many opportunities to connect, learn from one another, and enjoy the company and friendship of our most amazing peers.

This past summer, the Board met in Fort Worth, Texas, the home of our NAACO 2024 Annual Conference. Our discussions lead us to the theme “Inspiring Big Ideas” which not only captures the flavor of the area but helps us to imagine what the possibilities are as we think about our aspirations as academic event planners. Join us in Fort Worth between February 12 to 14, where we can inspire each other and share information that can make big ideas become realities.  

In addition to the conference, we will have many great opportunities through our Hot Topics presentations that will be filled with relevant and inspiring content. Our fall showcase will be returning to provide members with a chance to see what is new and upcoming from our vendors. NAACO Regional Meetings will also help you to connect and share ideas, so watch for announcements about each of these opportunities to engage, share, and learn.

NAACO cannot thrive without the participation of its members. I encourage you to find out more about getting involved. There are many levels of participation – joining a committee, presenting at the conference, enrolling in the certificate program, hosting a regional meeting, and engaging and sharing with your peers through NAACO Connect.

Currently, nominations for the following Board positions are open:

  • President Elect
  • Director-at-Large, Communications
  • Treasurer

Details regarding the roles and responsibilities of these positions are available online. Your Board, our Executive Director, Sara Wood, and I are always available should you have other questions about these positions.

Nominations close on November 3, 2023, so we encourage you to think about this pathway to success.  Your contributions, experience, and vision are needed to help us continue to grow and provide greater benefit to all members. To make a nomination, please complete the NAACO 2024 Board Nomination Form.

I am looking forward to an exciting year ahead and look forward to connecting with you at one of our many upcoming events. I hope to see you online and at the conference!


It’s Coming! NAACO 2024 Annual Conference

Claudia Davila
President-Elect, NAACO Board of Directors
Director, Commencement and Ceremonies, The University of Arizona

Planning for the NAACO 2024 Annual Conference: Inspiring Big Ideas is well underway and will be held February 12-14 in Fort Worth, Texas. The conference registration opened last month and includes two and a half days of educational sessions, keynote speakers, catching up with old friends, and networking with new ones. We are excited to gather again and hope that you can join us this year for inspiring educational sessions focusing on topics including communicating to students, training staff to support your ceremonies, managing the production details, and infusing diversity, equity, and inclusion into your communications and ceremony plans.

We ask that you plan to arrive at the Omni Fort Worth on Sunday afternoon to participate in one of the Meet & Eat dinners, which is a great opportunity to join small groups of NAACO members at local eateries. Monday evening will feature the Opening Night Reception and is an opportunity to mingle with our sponsors and members while enjoying appetizers and cocktails. Afterward, you’ll be free to have dinner or time on your own. 

Tuesday evening, following our Regional Meetings,  members will be able to get an early bite on their own and then meet up for the NAACO Night Out at the Modern Art Museum. On Wednesday we’ll say “so long!” as we wrap up the conference midday. This will allow you to depart the same day or enjoy more time in Fort Worth at your pleasure. Details will be posted on the conference webpages and announced in future emails. Stay tuned as our big Texas-sized plans come together! 


NAACO Welcomes New Board Members and Thanks Outgoing Members

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

NAACO Board of Directors gather in Forth Worth, Texas. Front (L-R): Claire Alexander, Mary Beth Rehrer. Back (L-R): James Vitagliano, Melissa Picher Kelly, Gabrielle Martinez, Liz McMahan, Claudia Dávila, Marcus Jones, Sara Wood (HQ), James Cuaresma.

Joining the current NAACO Board of Directors are Claudia Dávila, President Elect; Melissa Picher Kelly, Director-at-Large, Membership Committee; and Sondra Schwartz, Treasurer. Their wealth of experience and dedication to advancing the organization make them invaluable additions to the NAACO leadership team.

Claudia Dávila is the Director, Commencement and Ceremonies at the University of Arizona where she directs the overall production and execution of the main commencement ceremony along with other academic ceremonies. She has been working with commencement operations for over 23 years. Claudia is responsible for budgetary and logistical operations for the department. Additionally, she serves on campus committees and assists with campus events that include large scale events. Claudia is a longtime active member of NAACO, serving many roles in the organization before stepping into the President Elect role. 

With 30 years of experience in academic event production and leadership advisory, Melissa Picher Kelly currently directs the Events and Experiential team at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in the Pacific Northwest. In her role, she ensures exceptional event experiences are aligned with BCIT’s brand and vision. Melissa oversees multiple annual convocation ceremonies, over 70 events honoring students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and partners, as well as recruitment initiatives and VIP presentations. She has been a dedicated member of NAACO since 2013 and previously served as Treasurer from 2018 to 2019. 

Sondra Schwartz is the Associate Director of University Relations at Wilfrid Laurier University and has managed the Ceremonies and Events department for 13 years. She leads the planning for graduation ceremonies on the Waterloo campus as well as other institutional events such as installations, groundbreakings, building openings, and recognition events. She co-chairs the convocation advisory sub-committee, reporting on protocol matters to the Senate Executive. She also created and leads the on-campus event planner’s network, bringing colleagues together for collaboration and best-practice sharing. She has been a member of NAACO since 2010 and served as the Regional Director for Canada-East before joining the Board as Treasurer.

As NAACO warmly welcomes its new board members, we also want to take a moment to express our deepest gratitude to the outgoing board members whose dedication and hard work have been instrumental in the association’s achievements. We extend our sincere appreciation to James Cuaresma and Claire Alexander for their tireless efforts, wisdom, and unwavering commitment. Their contributions have been invaluable and we thank them for their outstanding service.

NAACO looks forward to the continued growth and progress that the new board members will bring. Together, we shall chart an exciting path forward in the world of commencement planning, always in the spirit of learning, innovation, and shared success.


Crowd Safety Training with Eric Stuart

Join this compressed version of a two-day accredited course delivered by Gentian Events. The course consists of four sessions, each 100 minutes long, spread over two days. The material will investigate the main issues relating to the safe management of crowds and the basic math, physics, psychology, and behaviour in crowds during the primary phases of an event, which are arrival, ingress, circulation (the event period itself), egress, and departure. It will also examine behaviours during the unwanted phase of events, which are emergencies and evacuations.

The course will be delivered online by Eric Stuary QPM, a Crowd safety manager in the UK but who also works in the US and Canada.

He was the inaugural chair of the Global Crowd Management Alliance and has been chair of the UK Crowd Management Association for 5 years. He remains involved in the Manchester Arena (Ariana Grande) bombing inquiries, was an advisor to the police investigative team dealing with a double fatality at the O2 Brixton Academy in London, is the principal author of the Baroness Casey report into mass crowd misbehaviour and violence at London’s Wembley Stadium, and reviewed and oversaw the crowd management for most aspects of the arrangements for the ten days of mourning and funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Time and dates: 11/29 & 11/30

November 29 & 30 from 12 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. ET

Cost is $149 per person


NAACO Member Spotlight with Patrica Nolin

Heather Violett
Member, NAACO Communications Committee

Events Manager, Academic Affairs, University of Massachusetts Global


This quarter’s member spotlight is Patricia Nolin from Rhode Island College. Patricia is the Assistant Director of Conferences and Engagement at her institution and has been planning commencement for 17 years. She is currently the Chair of the Education Committee for NAACO.





What’s your best piece of advice for our NAACO community planning ceremonies and events?
No two ceremonies or events will ever be the same. The key is to be flexible, listen to those on your team for input and feedback, learn from those elements that did not go as well as anticipated, and move forward with confidence. “You got this!”

Tell us about your first job.
My first job at the age of 16 was at a department store. I worked in the toy department as the Talking (and Singing) Christmas Tree. For the following three years when the holiday season arrived, I reprised that special role to delight many children (and a few moms and dads, as well).

What do you like to do for fun when you are not planning events?
I enjoy visiting museums and historic sites around New England and the beautiful coastline of Rhode Island. I frequently attend the theatre and concerts, as well. Each fall I try not to miss a Patriot NFL game and the chance to watch with family and friends.

What is your favorite part of commencement day?
My favorite part of the day is when graduates march into the arena, led by faculty marshals. I always feel the energy of the anticipation and joy the day holds.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure that gets you through the planning process?
Tootsie Rolls are my favorite candy.

Share one topic that you’d love other members to provide suggestions or solutions for?
I would like to know more about what role or tasks other commencement officers take on the day of commencement and what roles or tasks they delegate to their team or volunteers.

Share your favorite NAACO benefit.
The opportunity to share so many topics with professionals throughout North America. The validity and unity of our work comes to light when we come together as a group through the Annual Conference, Hot Topic Calls, and at committee meetings.

How do you and your colleagues manage personal wellness leading up to your events?
We take care of each other when we are not remembering to do it ourselves. My supervisor and I found a rhythm that worked well last year, in doing just that. We would remind each other to take that time we needed to break away occasionally.

How did you get involved in NAACO originally?
When we had a change in leadership at Rhode Island College, our institution was afforded the opportunity to join NAACO. I began my involvement with great enthusiasm. I attended the 2020 Annual Conference in Chicago, enrolled in the Certificate Program while there, and never looked back. I learned so much at that conference. It truly filled that professional development void that I had been experiencing.

What is something about you that might surprise people?
I have been a professional comedienne and singer for most of my life.

How do you find balance in your life as a commencement officer?
I am a proponent of “to do” lists. I am fortunate that multitasking has always been a skill that, over the years, has become quite handy. I also find that keeping a few personal items on the list, such as reading, alone time, or pampering myself with a facial, helps me to maintain my energy and focus.

Fall Commencement Showcase

Join NAACO for our annual Fall Commencement Showcase and learn how to plan your ceremonies more effectively. You’ll hear from NAACO corporate partners and lessons they’ve learned from their years of ceremonies experience and gain insight on new commencement solutions. This virtual event takes place Thursday, November 9, from Noon- 3 pm ET. Registration is free for NAACO members. A Zoom link will be sent once you are registered.


Avoiding Fall Burnout

Amber Sega
Member, NAACO Communications Committee
Director of University Commencements, California Baptist University 

We are all off to a new start with a new school year. Planning events can often start with a bang and end in burnout. This fall, you can prevent burnout by remembering to follow some of these important nuggets of advice, as gleaned from the US Surgeon General’s framework for workplace well-being:

Be cognizant of your personal safety and security.

  • Look ahead at any potential issues and create plans of action for different circumstances that may challenge you. Be sure to eat as well as you can, exercise daily, and try to get as much rest as possible during this busy season. Use your calendar to plan mental and physical breaks.

Stay connected to the community.

  • Explore different ways to connect to your coworkers and your institution. By finding creative avenues to incorporate diversity and equity into traditions, one can connect in ways you never would expect. As a supervisor, find ways to celebrate your staff and recognize accomplishments, great and small. As a staff member, encourage others, including your supervisor. There is always room for gratitude and respect in the workplace.

Maintain a work-life balance.

  • To achieve harmony within yourself, you need to discover the importance of working hard and playing hard, and sometimes both simultaneously. Your commitment to your work is important and accomplishing your goals for the season feels amazing but keeping realistic goals is the key to not becoming overwhelmed and deflated. While you are working hard to accomplish these goals, do not forget to rest and recharge daily and in between each event. Meditation, sleep, and spending time with loved ones is important in maintaining a healthy perspective and outlook. Going into the holiday season can be daunting. Making time for friends and family is a guaranteed reminder of what is important in this life and can help you to achieve balance. 

Be open to learning and enriching your life with new things.

  • Self-development is essential to avoiding burnout. Event planners often run the ship and use their collected skills and knowledge to accomplish their tasks. Being open to learning new ways of achieving your goals and successfully accomplishing tasks can significantly affect your mental and physical health. Choosing to attend conferences (like the NAACO Conference each February) will help to foster significant growth internally and beyond your immediate jobs. Using your expertise to teach and inspire others is a healthy release of energy that gives back by building internal strength. Taking on new commitments, such as presenting or participating on a committee, will develop your professional skills and confidence.

Another great source of information to assist in identifying, managing, and overcoming burnout in the workplace is a book called The Burnout Challenge.

We hope you have a fantastic fall and can’t wait to hear about it at the NAACO Conference in February!

Update from NAACO Headquarters 


Sara L. Wood, MBA, CAE

Executive Director, NAACO

As a new academic year begins, I would first like to thank each and every member institution for renewing this year. NAACO is first and foremost a community of engaged members coming together to support each other, share resources, and learn. Your commitment to excellence is admirable, and I appreciate each and every one of you as part of our growing community. To help support you, NAACO HQ has been hard at work getting multiple programs up and running. This fall, we will have two special virtual events: The Fall Commencement Showcase and a Crowd Safety Management course. Details for both can be found on the website, and any questions can be directed to Also, registration for the conference this February in Fort Worth is open. More details about sessions will be posted soon, and if early registration numbers are any indication, we are going to be seeing a lot of you in Texas! If you have not had a chance to register, please do so by visiting the NAACO website. You won’t want to miss this one. As always, NAACO HQ is here to help. If you require any assistance with your membership or would like to get more involved, please email us at

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