The Mace – October 2022


President’s Update

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

The beginning of a new academic year brings a renewed sense of energy and potential. Many of our campuses are busier than they have been in the last few years, and plans for the upcoming year are being put into motion. The same is true for NAACO.

The board met this summer in Vancouver—the location of our next annual conference–for our first in-person meeting since early 2020. A significant focus of a workshop facilitated by Sharon Newport was equity, diversity, and inclusion, in support of our strategic priority for NAACO to be a diverse and inclusive community. We engaged in dialogue on social motivation, biases, the role that trust plays in our relationships, and how accountability and support are equally important, particularly as they relate to issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

This work is crucial, not only to ensure that NAACO continues to be a community of openness, innovation, and adaptability, but also to assist with the work we do as academic ceremonies professionals, as we are often called upon to examine our traditions to make our ceremonies more inclusive for all. The board will continue to keep you updated on this important work.

During our time in Vancouver, we also had the opportunity to meet local members during a happy hour. Connecting with fellow NAACO members to share in our collective successes and challenges of the past year is a wonderful way to learn from and support one another. Keep an eye out for information on upcoming hot topics calls and regional meetings, and make sure to take advantage of these professional development opportunities to connect and grow.

I encourage you to register for our annual conference themed Strong Foundations and Expanding Horizons. The Conference Committee—which joins the Communications, Education, and Membership committees as a standing committee—is busy putting together three days of rich educational content along with networking and social activities.

All our committees are member led, and I encourage you to get involved in your association by joining a committee, presenting at the annual conference, or posting questions and answers on the NAACO Connect online forum. We are also currently seeking nominees for the positions of president-elect, director at large–membership, and treasurer. Nominations close on November 4, and more information can be found on the NAACO 2023 Board Nomination Form.

I wish you all the best for the fall term and look forward to connecting with you at an upcoming online event or the annual conference.


Communications Committee Rebuilds

Mary Beth Rehrer
Manager of Special Events and Programs, Rutgers University 
NAACO Director-at-Large, Communications

Hello to NAACO members from the Communications Committee! I’m Mary Beth Rehrer, Director-at-Large of Communications for NAACO. Since August 2021, I’ve held this role and participated as a member of the Board of Directors. The newly formed strategic plan provided the framework for creating strong committee charters and has become a springboard for reorganizing and building the Communications Committee. I’m very excited about the work that we’re continuing and new efforts we are embarking on! 

The Communication Committee’s purpose is to assist in providing effective and accurate communications to the membership and to help implement projects that facilitate engagement within the membership across all communication platforms. All the committee’s efforts serve three strategic outcomes. The committee charters are available online, should you wish to read the details.

Following a year with a small but strong team supporting the communications efforts, the committee has expanded to include new members. Led by Chair April Airhart of American Public University System, the members include Lacy Dailey of American Public University System, Christine Le of York University, and Amber Sega of California Baptist University. We welcome new members Bradley Bower of the University of Maryland, College Park; Kevin Gemoets of Northern Arizona University; Jackie LeViseur of Youngstown State University; and Heather Violett of the University of Massachusetts Global. Thank you to all members for your commitment to communications efforts. I’m impressed at how quickly this group is collaborating and contributing! Your work is critical to the success of the organization and much appreciated.

While we support The Mace by providing an outline of content and writing the articles and columns, we encourage all members to consider writing on a topic so that we hear from many voices. If you are interested, please reach out to April Airhart via email. It’s a terrific professional development opportunity to support your association.

The committee will continue to foster conversations on NAACO Connect and social media accounts with new vigor; we’ll elevate NAACO’s profile among North American institutions and are in the process of reviewing for content, organization, DEI, and handicap accessibility.  

We look forward to hearing from you on NAACO Connect and on our social media sites, which are listed on top of our homepage. Engagement with other members is a wonderful benefit of NAACO, and I hope you take advantage of it.


NAACO 2023 Annual Conference Update with Committee Chair Liz King

April Airhart
Director, University Events, American Public University System
NAACO Communications Committee Chair / US South East Assistant Director/ Conference Committee

It is already October, and the newly formed NAACO Conference Committee has been working to put together a wonderful conference in Vancouver! We are looking forward to several days of networking, education sessions, roundtable discussions, new friends, old friends, and a plethora of amazing resources and new ideas to contemplate as you prepare for your 2023 ceremonies.

I caught up with Conference Committee Chair Liz King, our very first two-term Conference Committee Chair and the Director of Ceremonies and Events at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Here is what you need to know about the NAACO 2023 Annual Conference and why it will be an amazing experience.

Q: What is unique about this conference and taking on the role as the Chair for two years?

Liz: This is an exciting time for our annual NAACO conference! We are coming out of the pandemic period and looking ahead to 2023 with a 100% in-person delivery for the first time since 2020 when we were in Chicago. We have an opportunity to re-think the planning and oversight of the conference with a new standing committee with volunteers who can really dig in and commit to the work for two years. We are very excited to be bringing the conference back to Canada and being on the West Coast in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia—the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

Q: What are you excited about and what challenges do you think you will face as you all plan the conference?

Liz: I am excited about the people! The team of commencement professionals who have put up their hands to sit on the Conference Committee are amazing—I could not be more fortunate to work with such a great team. We are excited to support the Board and our membership in delivering our best conference yet! Our challenge will always be time and how to find more of it, especially around busy fall commencement seasons for so many institutions. It makes me even more grateful that colleagues have carved out time to volunteer to be on the committee. Thank you!

Q: What changes should our colleagues look for in the 2023 conference schedule?

Liz: This year, we have discontinued the campus tour, and, in doing so, we are looking for new ways to showcase local members and host institutions. We have also added a Sunday networking event for those arriving to Vancouver prior to the official start of the conference. More opportunities will be available for our members to learn about how they can further develop themselves professionally through volunteering with NAACO. Finally, you can expect amazing keynote presentations and follow-up educational sessions featuring brilliant and engaging speakers aligned with our NAACO 2023 Annual Conference theme: Strong Foundations and Expanding Horizons.

Q: Why should those reading this article attend?

Liz: Attendees will gain so much, including new professional connections, new resources to take back home, and the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues once again.

Q: What is something you think is super cool about Vancouver that everyone attending should check out?

Liz: There are so many cool things to do here, but here are my top picks:

  • If you like the outdoors, check out nearby Stanley Park. Known as an “urban oasis,” it is even larger than New York City’s Central Park at 1,000+ acres.
  • Check out the nearly 17 km of seawall to get the best views of all the beauty that surrounds Vancouver!
  • Are you a foodie? You are in luck—Vancouver has restaurants to meet all tastebuds. Head to Canada’s largest Chinatown for dim sum, pick up a B.C. roll at most sushi spots, fill your fast-food craving with a dish of poutine!
  • Here for a few extra days? Consider a trip across the Salish Sea to Vancouver Island or a drive up the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler!

There are so many amazing things to do here. I hope you will find time to enjoy your surroundings. For more information, check out Vancouver’s official tourism website.

Q: How do I register and prepare to attend?

Liz: Our conference is being hosted at the Westin Bayshore in beautiful downtown Vancouver in a neighborhood known as Coal Harbour. The views are magnificent, and you will have easy access to walk the seawall and do lots of nearby activities. Rooms are available at a special rate of $199 CAD/$148.63 USD until January 5, 2023.

Early-bird registration is now open and will save members $100 (USD) off their registration until December 1.

After December 1, the following rates will apply:

Member Registration: $1,150.00 USD
Late Member Registration: $1,250.00 USD
Nonmember Registration: $1,450.00 USD
Late Nonmember Registration: $1,550.00 USD

If you plan to attend the night out event and would like to bring a nonconference guest, you may purchase an extra ticket online or at the information desk after you arrive. Tickets for conference attendees are included in the conference registration fee above, and guest tickets for nonconference attendees are $230.00 USD.

To register and for more conference details, including a currency converter, visit the conference registration page.

NAACO would like to thank Liz King and the entire Conference Committee for their dedication to our organization. We truly could not put on this amazing development opportunity annually without our volunteers. If you would like more information on volunteering with NAACO, visit our Volunteer with NAACO website to learn more.

We hope to see you at our 2023 NAACO Annual Conference, February 6–8, in Vancouver, British Columbia! Be sure to follow us on social media to stay in the loop on all things.


Meet and Connect with Your Regional Leaders!

James Cuaresma
Senior Director, University Events and Protocol, California State University, Los Angeles
NAACO Director-at-Large, Membership

Regional directors and assistant directors are dedicated to building community, sharing commencement and convocation best practices, and discovering new ideas. These leaders can provide information on how you can host a local/regional event to network with colleagues from neighboring institutions and assist in the planning of the event. They can also help generate solutions to regional-specific issues and challenges to ceremony planning.

Engage with the leaders and others in your region. View the regional map and list of leaders on the NAACO Leadership page.


NAACO Member Spotlight on Gwynne Mountz

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

As a fun way to get to know our NAACO members better, we will be including a Member Spotlight in each publication. We have the honor of having Mrs. Gwynne Mountz, administrative director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), as our inaugural Member Spotlight for this quarter. Gwynne works in the office of the provost and has been planning commencement for four years. She is also on our NAACO Membership Committee as the regional director for the Southeast Region.

We hope you enjoy this fun Q&A!

What do you love most about your work?

Easy! The people. When you work with great people, it makes it easier to get up and come to work each morning. The atmosphere is that of a family, and honestly, I like some of my co-workers better than some of my family members! (Shhh…don’t tell.)

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

Plan on at least three things going wrong at each event. When something does go wrong (and it will—big or small), you can tell yourself and your team, “one down, two to go.” Rarely do we ever have three things go wrong, but preparing for it makes it easier to pivot.

What’s your most interesting previous job?

I worked for the campus bookstore for two universities in Nashville, Tennessee. It was fun getting to see the different celebrities and their kids come to the store!

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

Right now, it’s cheering on the Atlanta Braves. I grew up watching them with my dad and have started that tradition with my daughter. She is hooked. We try to go to as many games as we can. We are hoping they make it to the World Series again this year!

What is your favorite part of commencement day?

My favorite part is watching the students cross the stage. Even though I don’t know them, I feel like they are all my students. When I have a friend or co-worker who is graduating, I usually try to buy a bouquet of commencement flowers for them and hand it to them as they leave the stage.

Tell us a personality trait of yours that helps you succeed in your role?

I’m very Type A. This is both a blessing and a curse. I am also a big picture person, so having team members who are detailed-type people is a perfect balance.

What guilty pleasure gets you through the planning process?

It’s very odd but I will listen to the same song on repeat for an hour or two while I’m knee deep in planning. I’m sure that would drive other people crazy, but for some reason it relaxes me. Commencement time is the only time I ever do this!

Share your favorite NAACO benefit.

The network of people! It is so nice to have an entire community of people who know exactly what you’re going through each semester. It’s the number one reason I attend the NAACO conferences each year and read the NAACO Connect emails each week!

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

Like most of you, commencement is just a small (albeit, very involved) part of my job here at UAB. I try my best to compartmentalize the different aspects of my job so that I can easily switch from one task to another. Taking a break to work on something different helps rejuvenate me!

Share your NAACO origin story and how you got involved in your volunteer roles.

I attended my first NAACO conference in Reno after I had just inherited my commencement duties. My goal was to learn as much as I could during that conference. Since then, I’ve gone from a lone conference attendee to a NAACO regional director in four and a half years. I was interested in opportunities to volunteer my time, and this role became available. I look forward to becoming more involved with NAACO over the coming years.

Do you and your team have something special you do after events to celebrate?

After each ceremony, I try to get as many people from our immediate team as I can together to go out for margaritas and dinner! A lot of people are tired, and understandably so. But my reward to myself is a big bowl of queso, chips, and a few margaritas! It’s probably not the healthiest thing, but I look forward to it every semester.



Wellness and You

Amber Sega
Director of University Commencements, California Baptist University
NAACO Communications and Conference Committees

The past two years have taught me how important it is for us to take care of ourselves. Put simply, if you do not choose a time to take a break, your body will do it for you. By taking an internal look, I discovered that focusing on my physical and mental well-being was essential to saving my own life, and I can now embrace health and happiness as I move into my future.

We all work very hard, but do we take time to care for ourselves? It is important to not only take care of our physical well-being but also our mental well-being.

Here are several tips for taking care of our physical and mental well-being:

  • Eat regular meals every day.
  • As planners, normal business hours do not always apply to us, nor do normal office duties. So, you may not be able to eat a full meal, but you must feed your body to feed your brain to keep going. I found that I would skip meals completely due to a lack of time/scheduling. We are so busy and always on the go, so we pick up fast food or forget to eat all together. It takes effort, but you can bring a lunch (prep on Sundays) and snacks (e.g., bags of nuts, fruits, a protein bar). I find small bags of dried fruits and nuts give me energy and elevate my mood the whole day through. I rarely have time to sit and eat a meal, but healthy snacks are essential. If you do not eat regularly, this will greatly affect your metabolism and your brain power.
  • Remember to breathe.
  • Taking the time to practice slow, deep breathing exercises has proven to be very effective. Yoga, meditation, and prayer are great ways to relieve stress and decompress. Sometimes, just taking a step back in the quiet can help you to refocus and let go of stress and tension. It can be hard to find time to do this, but it is so important, even for a minute. I find that when I step outside my office, close my eyes, breathe in deeply, open my eyes, and exhale, I feel reenergized and clear minded. I try to do this several times per day.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • This is usually easier said than done. As busy event planners, we can fall into the trap of working far too many hours and not taking the time to honor a sleeping schedule. Sleep is the time our body uses to heal and repair itself. A lack of sleep can cause a slower healing time, additional stress physically and mentally, and even illness. After a long day at work, I used to come home and turn on the TV for an hour and just sit there. Now, instead, I prep for my next day, get ready for bed, use my face steamer, and go to sleep. The face steamer helps me relax and puts me in the right head space to fall asleep. I find that I fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly than I did when I would watch TV right before bed.
  • Take time to process your stress.
  • This may involve meeting with a therapist, becoming more physically active, making sure your job is right for you, keeping a journal or blog, focusing on what is important in your life, or forgiving or helping others. Processing your stress is essential to creating a healthier you.

Sometimes it is hard to focus on yourself when you spend all your time focusing on everyone else. But remember that if you do not take the time to take care of you, you may not be here to take care of others. Your work is important, but you are more important!

I am wishing you all a healthier and happier season ahead! Take care of yourselves!


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 2022:

Gannon University
109 University Square
Provost Office
Erie, PA 16541
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
36 S. Wabash Ave
Suite 1203
Chicago, IL 60603
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise)
1 College Avenue
Wise, VA 24293
University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
3700 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
1201 W. University Drive
Edinburg, TX 78539
Dickinson College
28 N College St
Carlisle, PA 17013
New England College
98 Bridge Street
Henniker, NH 03242
Penn State Abington
1600 Woodland Road
Abington, PA 19001
Allan Hancock College
800 S. College Dr.
Santa Maria, CA 93454
University of North Florida
1 UNF Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32224
Champlain College
163 South Willard Street
P. O. Box 670
Burlington, VT 05401
Fairfield University
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT 06824
Spring Hill College
4000 Daphne St
Mobile, AL 36608
Algonquin College
1385 Woodroffe Avenue
Ottawa, ON K2G1V8

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


Update From NAACO Headquarters

Sara L. Wood, MBA, CAE
NAACO Executive Director

As we move through the fall, I want to first thank all of the volunteers who give their time and talent to support NAACO. Over the last few months, volunteers from institutions have been working on creating an incredible conference experience this February, updating our certificate program offerings, developing educational content, and helping to publish this newsletter. In addition to our committee efforts, the NAACO board has been hard at work on strategic initiatives that will be launched over this year designed to set NAACO up for a thriving future. As your executive director, it is truly a pleasure to have such an engaged and passionate membership that is dedicated to growing the community. If you are interested in volunteering with NAACO, please contact us at

One big highlight coming up will be the Fall Commencement Showcase. Originally created in 2021 to help bring more virtual options to the membership during pandemic, this quickly has turned into a popular event where members learn about the latest tools, solutions, and services in the commencement space. If you have not yet had a chance to register, I encourage you to do so. If you have not yet renewed your institution’s membership, please do ASAP online or by contacting This event is free to members, but if you have not yet renewed for 2022–2023, you will see the non-member pay wall. It’s not too late to renew! We have so many networking and educational opportunities coming this year that are free with your membership, and we don’t want you to miss out. 

Thank you all for being a part of this community as we come into a very exciting year, and I look forward to seeing all of you both online and in person! 

Sara L. Wood, MBA, CAE

NAACO Executive Director


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