Commencement 2016: Behind the scenes
Orchestrating a weekend full of events for nearly 40,000 people is no small task. Liberty University’s 2016 Commencement was the culmination of many months of hard work and coordination by the Registrar’s Office, Marketing, Information Technology, Field Operations, Liberty University Police, Transit, Events Office, and many other departments across campus.
Over 750 staff members and volunteers, including 200 members of Liberty’s Student Leadership team, worked Commencement events May 13-14. Over 60 Registrar’s Office staff members stayed through the evenings the week before to set up for the ceremonies.
“What is exciting for me is that each year we continue to see more and more of our staff around campus wanting to be involved with graduation,” said Lori Baker, associate registrar for operations. “It is hard work that week, and it is very encouraging to see how much our staff and faculty care. Commencement is a big celebration, and our goal is to make the weekend not only a celebration of academic tradition and accomplishment, but to make it an enjoyable and exciting event for our graduates and guests.”
Baker said planning for the entire weekend takes seven months, beginning in October. The workload intensifies in February, and from March to May, five full-time planners from the Registrar’s Office are working almost exclusively on preparing for Commencement. One of them works full time managing the Commencement email inbox and Facebook page.
This year, about 6,300 graduates attended ceremonies on campus (500 more than last year).
Liberty hosted a record crowd of 38,000 for the main ceremony in Williams Stadium. Additional seating was required for both the main ceremony and the 26 separate degree presentation ceremonies. Bleachers for 3,000 people were added at Williams Stadium. Across campus, 15,000 chairs were set up to complement built-in seating at various venues. This was the first year that Liberty’s LaHaye Ice Center was utilized for Commencement events as special flooring and chairs were set up on the ice for the School of Education’s undergraduate and graduate degree presentation ceremonies.
Commencement is not only Liberty’s largest annual event, it is also draws one of the largest crowds to Central Virginia, bringing a boost to the local economy. Baker said almost all hotels within a two-hour radius of Liberty’s campus are full, and reservations for local restaurants are hard to come by.
She said that when she started managing Liberty’s Commencement in 2008, she did much of the planning herself, with Registrar’s Office staff helping with setup the night before.
“Things have grown so much,” Baker said. “Liberty University always strives to be the best at what it does. Commencement is the biggest event of the year, and the bar has continued to be raised to the point that we now have what I feel is one of the largest and best Commencement Weekends in the country.”
Kristin Conrad, executive director of marketing for Liberty, was responsible for directing the stage production for the entire main ceremony and accommodating Liberty’s special speakers and guests. She said that during Commencement Weekend, staff from different departments become one team.
“Everyone comes with a servant’s heart. Even though their task may not be part of their usual 8-to-5 job, they come together to make one event a huge success,” she said. “And while everyone is doing their job, the focus remains on the graduates and their families. It is a monumental occasion for them; we want to make sure every detail goes into making their experience a special one to remember.”
- Liberty’s Marketing Department printed over 220,000 Commencement-related items. All Commencement materials, from the first Save the Date mailing to graduates and families, to the guides and programs, signs, T-shirts, water bottles, and many more items are designed in-house.
- 10 photographers and 9 videographers canvassed campus to capture the weekend events.
- 60 beach balls were inflated and thrown into the crowd.
- Over 6,500 bags were prepared for graduates.
- Nearly 13,000 bottles of water were distributed at the main ceremony.
- 30,000 ponchos were on hand in case of rain.
- Approximately 120 additional security guards and law enforcement were hired to work alongside Liberty University Police Department throughout the weekend.
- Over 50 golf carts were rented and 48 buses were in operation.
- 25 tech setup crew members and an additional 29 production staff worked on the live video production. Graduation for the technical crew began at 5:30 a.m.
- Nearly 2,000 tuned in to watch the ceremony live online. Visitors represented all 50 states and 56 other nations.
- To date, over 23,000 people have viewed the various Commencement Weekend videos.
Liberty University Dining Services served 17,000 patrons.
Over 120 dining services employees assisted with Commencement. These employees were spread out over serving at William’s Stadium Concessions, Tilley Student Center, various drink locations set up, and several catering events.
This year’s Commencement broke all prior year’s dining sales records.
- During the two weeks prior to Commencement, the core staff consumed approximately 123 cups of Starbucks coffee.