7 thoughts that only people considering volunteering at graduation will recognise*

1: Should I really be doing this, is it my place?

Yes!  The events team ask for staff volunteers because they need them.  However, you need to check with your line manager and your site calendar to ensure that we can continue to provide a Library service; we still have lots of students studying, even when others are graduating.

2: Oh lord, what am I supposed to be doing?

It’s ok!  The helpful email that comes from the events team gives you all the information you need about the role you have been assigned, and they run through everything before the ceremony starts so that you are fully prepared.  The events team have spent ages preparing for these, double and triple checking everything, and have everything planned to the smallest detail, so you will be fine.

3: Which ceremony should I volunteer at?

If you don’t have much availability then you should just volunteer for the one that you have time to do.  It is a full morning or afternoon out of your day, so bear this in mind.  If you have a choice of ceremonies then why don’t you choose one that is special to you.  I volunteered at the SMCSE graduation where I saw our very own James graduate, which was a lovely experience.  I also volunteered at the graduation ceremony for the Schools of Health and Law.  Even though I haven’t worked with the Law School for a while I still feel a sense of nostalgia, particularly towards GIP, as I spent my formative City years there.  The Law students graduating this year were ones I did Library inductions for, so it was nice to bookend that with their graduation.  It was also a good opportunity to catch up with some of the academic staff members.

4: But Graduation is for students and academics, I shouldn’t intrude

I got to see hundreds of students who we have all assisted in a myriad of ways graduate from City.  Some of them we will see again as they return for study or work, and others will just sail on into the ‘real world’, as one of the student speakers phrased it, never to be heard from again.  We have all played a part in the success of these students; we have seen them at good times, when returning books after submitting a tricky assignment, working with friends in the Library, and actively seeking our expertise when needed.  But we have also seen them at difficult times; when struggling to complete an assignment last minute, when falling out with their study group, and when highly stressed over exams.  At graduation, we get to see the culmination of their years of hard work.  The happiness and excitement on the faces of the graduands and their families, the relief and joy on the faces of our graduates as they have the obligatory ‘throw your mortar board in the air’ shot, makes it all worthwhile.

5: Do I get to hold a cane?

Processional marshals have to carry a staff, the Students’ Union has a mace, and the University has a mace too.  It is my totally unfounded yet fervent belief that they were once used to control wayward academics and overenthusiastic graduands moonwalking across stage.
As a processional marshal, it is your job to lead a group onto the stage in an orderly manner, remain on stage clapping appropriately throughout the ceremony, and lead your charges off stage again.  In the time before the ceremony you get to meet your crew and get to know other people within the University.  At the first ceremony, I met members of Senate and Council.  Chatting to them really helped me work out who was who and get a better understanding of how the University is governed.  The second ceremony was a bit tougher, with an assortment of presenting academics to marshal.  These were the staff members who were actually going to be announcing the names of the graduands as they line up to approach the stage and formally graduate, and it was quite important that they all made it onto the stage in order.

6: Who attends graduation, should I know all these people?

Obviously, the main attendees are our students and their guests.  In terms of staff members, volunteers come from all over the University, at all levels.  On stage you have someone representing the Chancellor, either the Chancellor himself, the pro-chancellor, or honorary rector.  Either side of him you have the vice-chancellor and a pro-vice chancellor, and then the deans of the schools graduating.  Elsewhere on stage you find representatives from Council and Senate, the Students’ Union, faith and chaplaincy, and presenting and non-presenting academics from the schools graduating.  I really found the whole experience demystified some aspects of the governance of the University.  If you’re interested in how we are governed then I recommend a look at the governance pages online; some of this will change in September though.

At each ceremony there is also an honorary graduate, this is always someone eminent in their field.  I saw the posthumous award for Dame Zaha Hadid, and for Baroness Helena Kennedy.  It isn’t often that you get to see such inspirational people give heartfelt speeches.  Each ceremony also has a student speaker, chosen due to their academic successes and  extracurricular activities.  Again, a fantastic opportunity to hear our students talk about how they succeeded.

7: It’s too warm in all that get up

I’m not going to lie, it was pretty warm in the full academic regalia.  But I got to carry a staff and feel like a wizard.  If you do decide to volunteer I would recommend you wear a shirt or blouse to help attach your hood, and if you have long hair use the hairpins they offer to secure your hat.  Fortunately, there is air-con inside the Barbican, so it wasn’t too bad.  Just don’t wear new shoes (I still have the blisters).

*I’m making an attempt at a BuzzFeed style listicle (apologies for the egregious neologism) to pimp my writing style and get down with the kids.  Sadly I do not have pictures of cats with which to illustrate my points.

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