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If you have not yet renewed your NAACO membership, there are still a few days left before your benefits fully lapse on November 1. If you are the primary contact for your institution, please visit the NAACO website to pay your invoice online or download a copy. If you need assistance renewing, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Message from the President
- Celebration Boxes
- Installation Ceremonies in the Time of COVID-19
- Convocation Ceremony
- Hot Topic Call Wrap Up—Celebrating the Class of 2020: Unique Ideas for Unique Times
- Keep the Discussion Going! Subscribe to the NAACO Member Forum
- Update From NAACO Headquarters
- Upcoming Meetings
- Thank You To Our Sponsor
Message from the President
While January 1 marks the new year and the possibility of new beginnings, the same can be said for the start of the academic year. It is a time for planning and looking ahead. This year, we are experiencing changes that we likely never conceived. We are seeing the world, our lives, and our work through a different lens. Change does not come easy, but it encourages us to step back and evaluate what we do and how we do it. Change can be the impetus that allows us to exceed beyond our own expectations.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” –Socrates
I have learned a great deal this past year, much that can be attributed to NAACO and each of you, but also from our graduates, their parents, and their loved ones. I was reminded that gathering in person for a single cause in celebration of many has an incredible and emotional impact on all who participate. I will never again take for granted the power of human contact. While it is difficult to achieve that same effect in the virtual world, I am excited and confident that our new perspective will allow us to create more meaningful experiences in whatever realm they are delivered. Even the smallest considerations can have a profound effect when offered with thought and care.
Registration for NAACO’s inaugural all-virtual conference is now open! Lisa Arakaki, 2021 Conference Chair, and her committee of dedicated volunteers are planning an experience that speaks to a fundamental challenge that is more evident than ever: Creating Impactful Moments in a Changing World.
As a member of NAACO, you have an investment in its growth and success. Please encourage colleagues from other institutions to join this incredible group of individuals and to take advantage of the many opportunities and benefits it affords. Consider further engagement opportunities for yourself, including enrollment in the certificate program, volunteer roles available at both committee and board levels, presenting at the conference, in webinars, and hot topic calls, hosting a regional meeting, and more.
My esteemed partners on the board of directors and Executive Director Sara Wood are always available to meet with you on any matter. Do not hesitate to reach out to us to share ideas or concerns, or to answer any questions you may have regarding NAACO.
Hoping you are all well and safe, with warmest regards,
President, NAACO Board of Directors
Director of Academic Ceremonies, Northeastern University, Boston
Like most universities, the University of California, Irvine (UCI) announced last spring that it would not hold an in-person commencement ceremony in June due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-March, classes were all moved online and students living on campus were asked to leave if they could safely do so. Things were moving and changing quickly and there were still a lot of unknowns. Postponing commencement was necessary, but not an easy decision. We knew from our students that the walk across the stage with their name being called is their most treasured moment. We also knew that a virtual ceremony would never fully replace that moment. Our focus was to move forward and find a way to still celebrate our graduates—even from afar—while hoping to give them an in-person ceremony at some point in the future.
Staff immediately went to work to search for inventive ways to celebrate our graduates. The idea of mailing a celebration box to each graduate was a concept that kept coming up. In a typical year, UCI has approximately 8,000 graduates that participate in commencement. But this was not a typical year! We had to address dozens of questions in a very short time frame. Would graduates still participate? What should be included in the boxes? How much would they cost? Could the boxes be completed and shipped in time for our June 13 virtual commencement? Could we find a business that would commit to this project and execute it well? At that time, most companies across the United States were shut down or offered limited services; in addition, shipping companies like Federal Express and UPS were overloaded by an overwhelming surge in demand. The logistics of creating and mailing boxes to 8,000 individuals located all over the U.S. and to 14 foreign countries was daunting, to say the least.
In early April, we reached out to five vendors located on the West Coast. Four were unable to assist us and one replied that it could possibly assist us, if additional limitations were not put in place by their county. The volume was just too high with the limitations and uncertainty they were all facing due to COVID-19 restrictions. We expanded our search and eventually were connected to a company in Florida that said it could take on the job. We immediately began to piece everything together as quickly as possible.
UCI had already purchased license plate frames for all graduates since this is a gift we give to them at commencement every year. Our vendor said it could incorporate them into the celebration boxes at no extra cost. The license plate frames were immediately shipped via freight from the UCI campus to the vendor in Florida.
Our GradExpo—when our graduates would usually purchase their regalia—had not yet taken place. It is usually scheduled for the first week in May. Therefore, none of our graduates had purchased regalia. We decided to not make regalia mandatory for participation in the virtual celebration; instead, we offered graduates the opportunity to purchase regalia on their own. We also decided to purchase mortar boards and official UCI tassels from our regalia vendor to add into each celebration box. The regalia vendor shipped the items directly to our vendor in Florida.
While the license plate frames, mortar boards, and tassels were in transport, we completed the design of the box and other items to be added in before shipping. The designs for the box and the yard sign were created by our commencement team. The vendor took our approved files and printed a congratulatory letter from our chancellor on university letterhead, an engagement card on cardstock, which gave students ideas about ways to engage with us on social media, and a custom wrap for our license plate frame which included a message from our UCI Alumni Association president. All these items were designed, created, and in hand in a little over one week.
Once all items were in house in early May, the vendor began the fulfillment process. They had protocols in place for staff distancing and therefore started with filling 500 boxes per day. They eventually ramped up to filling 1,000 boxes per day. The vendor successfully filled all the celebration boxes in about 10 days with five staff members on site daily.
Once the boxes were filled, they were mailed out using FedEx 3-day shipping. We worked with UCI’s FedEx representative to negotiate a discount due to the volume of boxes. The addresses were downloaded from the commencement registration system and provided by my team. Our FedEx contact then worked directly with the vendor to send pre-printed labels for the boxes that were purchased using our FedEx account number. Our vendor kept an Excel sheet of all tracking numbers so our team could look up the delivery status for any box. The average cost to ship each box was about $9–$10 domestically. The average cost to ship the box internationally was also $9–$10 but the time frame for shipping was a bit longer. We worked with the vendor and our FedEx contact to complete customs forms for the boxes shipped internationally.
Graduates received their boxes between May 23 and June 12. Our virtual celebration took place on June 13. To create excitement and anticipation about receiving the box, we created an “unboxing” video with our Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and the graduating student body vice president. We mailed boxes to them ahead of time and connected them via Zoom. They had a blast going through the items together. This received a lot of attention on social media and our graduates started to get very excited about receiving their celebration boxes. We had over 15,700 social media posts from graduates, friends, and family—most of them showing off the celebration box! It was so much fun seeing many of them create their own unboxing videos, posing in front of their lawn signs, and other celebratory photos. The celebration boxes were an amazing, unique, and successful aspect of our 2020 celebration.
Installing both a new chancellor and a new president in one year is a challenge at the best of times. We began preparing in 2019 in anticipation of both installations in 2020. On March 5, 2020, Alberta’s first case of COVID-19 was reported, and everything changed.
At the University of Alberta, the chancellor is traditionally installed at the final convocation ceremony in June. With no in-person convocation ceremonies, we had to make alternate plans. Following guidelines from the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta, we were able to hold an indoor seated gathering on June 18 with 50 people in attendance and mandatory social distancing. The date for the president’s installation can vary, but it is typically held in the fall. As the number of COVID-19 cases dropped over the summer, restrictions were eased slightly, and by September 16 we were allowed to increase the number of attendees at an indoor seated gathering to 100, still with social distancing. Both in-person ceremonies were recorded, and the president’s installation was also streamed live for others to view. Invitations to view the ceremonies were sent to the campus community, external stakeholders, and institutions.
For both events, all attendees, speakers, and staff were required to wear face masks, which we provided if someone did not have one. Attendees were also required to fill out a health questionnaire upon entering the venues. Hand sanitizer stations were available throughout the venues.
In June, our convocation venue was closed. We used a smaller venue on campus, which created some challenges. With a small area to use as the stage, our platform party had to be seated in the audience, as space on stage would not allow for proper distancing between members. Chairs were set up 2 metres (6 feet) apart for the audience. By September, our usual venue had been able to reopen, and we were able to spread the audience throughout the 1,000 seats on the main floor. Using the venue’s large stage, we were able to accommodate a platform party of 16, each spaced 2 metres apart in staggered rows. At both ceremonies, two podiums were used by alternating speakers.
We were able to maintain most of the traditional elements of the ceremonies with minor adjustments to accommodate social distancing requirements. The presentation of the mace to the chancellor required adjustment; rather than bringing it directly to her, it was extended lengthwise and she reached her hand toward it. Normally, the registrar brings the chancellor and president their robe and assists them in putting it on. At both ceremonies, the robe was on a mannequin on stage. The chancellor put hers on without assistance, and the president’s husband was on stage to assist him.
All speakers were present at the chancellor’s installation, and a pianist provided a live musical performance. At the president’s installation, pre-recorded video greetings from government, indigenous leaders, and former colleagues were played, in addition to in-person presentations. Musical presentations were also pre-recorded, and included Zoom choirs, a Zoom quintet, and a soloist.
By strictly adhering to the guidelines provided by the province’s health authorities, we were able to hold safe, in-person installation ceremonies for both our chancellor and president in this very challenging year.
Links to the ceremony recordings can be found here:
In moments of change and uncertainty, our traditions and rituals become more important than ever. They give us comfort in the familiar. They remind us of our connections to the past and encourage us to look to the future. They unite us. As event planners, that is our charge: to unite a community around tradition.
Our return to campus was not normal this fall, and our welcome back ceremonies reflected that. This was our challenge: to recreate traditions in a nontraditional format. The lessons we learned in our rushed commencement and convocation ceremonies prepared us for our new digital stage. I have been most impressed with everyone’s campus leadership to embrace clever and catchy ways to engage a scattered audience. They go along (willingly or reluctantly) with our ideas to create custom event pages, have deans deliver acceptance notes to show during ceremony, breaking out our ceremony into smaller videos, and creating virtual welcome week.
In the forum boards, everyone shared creative ideas for our welcome ceremonies and connecting events like creating smaller breakout rooms, and videos of student performances. Our connection to each other remains one of our best resources.
Welcome back and best of luck.
Starting around mid-February, most commencement and convocations planners realized that holding a typical spring event would not be possible. The scant few months remaining required alternate plans for the Class of 2020. While replacing an in-person ceremony with a digital event was daunting, the Commencement Planners of 2020 succeeded. In this summer’s two part series of Hot Topic calls “Celebrating the Class of 2020: Unique Ideas for Unique Times” several commencement planners shared how they achieved their goal of making memorable, celebratory events this past season.
One theme interwoven among each of the resulting plans was the planners’ attention to highlighting the unique traditional and cultural elements of their ceremony. The newly modeled events incorporated the historic and anticipated traditions to create an emotional response. All of the resulting work looked quite different from each other, but it’s clear that these planners know what makes their graduates happy, at a time when being together was not possible.
Ann Acob of Pacific Northwest University of Health Science planned a virtual ceremony which included student-submitted videos. Announcing themselves as “Doctor” for the first time and sharing their residency specialty and location was a personal thrill for the new MD’s heading out into the workforce. Regina Drew of New York University shared a stylized video that captured the essence of NYU, featuring noteworthy campus locations and spirit while enhanced by the sounds of bag pipes, an NYU tradition. University of California Davis’ Commencement, directed by Whitney Smith, featured professional video messages by the chancellor and speakers that embraced the challenging times brought on by COVID-19 and the success of the UC Davis graduates in the midst of it all.
At the University of British Columbia, Liz King detailed the online ceremony, in which the popular handshake with the president was replaced by a virtual selfie opportunity with him. This became a social media hit. Among other details, the preservation of traditional elements and inclusion of the Okanagan culture was highly well-received.
Kate Genord and Theawiana Bracewell of Oakland University, Michigan, shared their team’s determination to keep significant elements such as the traditional pipe and drum band and an opportunity to walk across the stage. Their newly imagined event was scheduled to be held at a drive-in movie theater, where graduates could walk across the stage.
Overall, these celebrations were punctuated by big creativity, sights and sounds in professional video productions, richer social media campaigns and new levels of event technology to safely bring these events to larger audiences. With a realization that the senses needed to be filled with inspiring words, music and visuals as well as emotional moments, these planners led their schools to delivering moments that the graduates will cherish.
For more details on how these commencement officers succeed in planning a unique event, find the recordings of Hot Topic Calls on the NAACO website, under COVID-19 resources.
One of the best tools of NAACO membership is the Member Forum. Subscribing to the Forum is an easy way to keep informed of current topics and a place to get help when you need it quickly.
The simplest way to do this is to subscribe to the daily digest, which provides a snapshot of new topics and discussion updates. Follow these instructions to subscribe:
First, access the Member Forum by clicking Member Login on the top of the NAACO website and sign in with your credentials.
Then, on the navigation bar across the top, click on “Groups,” and a list of groups that you’re a member of will open. Tap the link for “NAACO FORUM” and the following content should appear:
On the right of NAACO FORUM, click on “Group Notifications,” which will open a new page, “Account Settings.” Here you can control how to “Receive notifications from Group” by selecting “immediately” or “with my digest,” which sends a daily update when posts are made. For “Receiving Group Update” and “Discussion Updates,” turn on your desired options.
And there you go! Now you’re all set to get timely notifications on topics that are being discussed in the forum and you too can start or contribute to discussions. Share your knowledge with your NAACO Colleagues and build up your network.
It’s hard to believe that the new staff team has only been working with NAACO for a few short months! Since the transition in July, the staff has hit the ground running to support your volunteer leaders with what they need to deliver the high member value you have come to expect. If you have not yet had the opportunity to view the most recent hot topic calls, I would encourage you to do so behind the member wall. The most recent sessions have invaluable information for our changing environment and are at no cost to NAACO members. Also, registration has opened for the 2021 NAACO Annual Conference! We will be entirely virtual this year due to the pandemic. However, while we cannot be together, NAACO will still bring you a stellar online event. Registration is now open, and a more detailed schedule will be posted soon. HQ is also supporting efforts for the upcoming regional meetings. We have two coming up in November, and more information can be found here. Last, but not least, thank you to the entire membership for being so welcoming of the new team. It has been a pleasure getting to know NAACO over the last few months, and we look forward to a bright future together.
Sara L. Wood, MBA, CAE, NAACO Executive Director
- November 5, 2020, 9:00 am ET | US Northeast Virtual Regional Meeting Hosted by Rhode Island College
- November 18, 2020, 10:00 am AST | Canada East Virtual Regional Meeting Hosted by University of New Brunswick
- February 22–25, 2021 | 2021 NAACO Annual Conference