May 7, 2001
Cooking up Commencement
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
The chairs, all 19,000 of them across campus, come from somewhere. The main stage, its blue-and-yellow canopy, the risers for the faculty, do not appear like magic.
To come together, it all requires the precision of a military operation
and the labor of dozens of Emory employeesmany of them volunteers.
One of the main people responsible for setting it up and making it flow
smoothly is Daniel Cook of Facilities Management (FM).
Everybody looks at Commencement as being a one-day thing, but its
a one-year commitment to a lot of people here, Cook said. For instance,
the FM contracts department has a backlog of Commencement-related paperwork
Cook compared to the Atlanta phone book.
For the team I work directly with, its at least two weeks
of them getting ready for it, Cook continued. Then, once the
College ceremony is over, we start tearing every chair down. Its
harder to get volunteers for that, because everyone wants to celebrate.
Indeed, about 5060 volunteers, mostly from FM, sign up for chair
duty. They set up the Quad beginning Wednesday before Commencement, then
set up chairs for individual school ceremonies over the weekend.
Then they report at 5 a.m. on Commencement Monday andonce the dew
point hitswipe down every chair, so that graduates and their families
have a dry place to sit.
Its a team-building exercise, and its pretty good for
morale because Im getting a lot of people who are chained to the
desk all the time out in the field, Cook said. Volunteers also are
rewarded with a catered barbecue lunch on setup day.
Not only is Cook in charge of Commencement setup, but he is also the
ceremonys chief safety marshal. The safety marshal program was introduced
two years ago as a kind of middle ground between ushers and the Emory
Police Department. Marshals are responsible for crowd control and pedestrian
traffic, but they will also be extra faces visitors can turn to for questions.
[When the program was started], I said its a great idea.
The next thing I knew, they made me the chief safety marshal, Cook
laughed. I will accept anyone who wants to be a volunteer; the more
Two weeks before Commencement, he had 42 marshals. His goal is to recruit
6070. Volunteers will don blue blazers, white shirts, dark ties
and fedoras and meet Monday morning in White Hall at 5 a.m., where they
will be assigned their stations and undergo brief training.
You really have to be a psychoanalyst, and you cant physically
intimidate anybodyalthough Ive been physically intimidated
many times, he laughed.
A quick wit helps. For instance, if a parent refuses to sit down, perhaps
saying something along the lines of I paid $100,000 to this University,
and Ill stand wherever I please, the suggested marshal response
is, Well, youre blocking about $5 million-worth of other parents.
Since hes still looking for a few more volunteers, Cook said anyone
interested in taking part can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It makes you feel good to do something like this, Cook said.
Weve met a lot of really nice people over the years out here,
everybody from Jimmy Carter to Henry Aaron to Bill Clinton to the Dalai
Lama. Weve done a little bit of everything.
Its a pretty nice show, he continued. You get
to know a lot of these kids. You may not know them all by name, but youll
see certain ones [graduate] and it makes you smile. Heck, that could be
one of my kids coming off there.
One day it could be. Cooks son, Daniel Jr., will be a senior at
Shiloh High School in Gwinnett County next year, and one of the reasons
he lists for working at Emory is its courtesy scholarships. Daniel, who
takes several AP classes would be a good candidate for acceptance, too.
Cook and his wife Linda also have a 6-year-old daughter, Jessica.
Cook came to Emory eight years ago and has supervised Commencement setup
ever since. Originally, he thought hed be working to help Emory
comply with Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, but that
has been only a small part of his responsibilities. And his title seems
to change from month to month.
Right now its supervisor of roads and hardscape maintenance,
Cook said. Before that it was construction supervisor; before that
it was construction foreman and before that I think it was labor crew
leader. The men he supervises, though, have remained consistent.
A native of the steel country of southwestern Pennsylvania, Cook lived
the first half of his life in the Midwest. When you came out of
school, you went to some type of mill, foundry or mine, but there wasnt
a lot opportunity when I started looking [for a job].
So, Cook moved around a bit: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. He worked construction,
helped build power plants and did some trucking. All in all, he made quite
a decent living, although the Rust Belt in the 1980s was hardly the most
opportune place to live.
Cook moved to Georgia 15 years ago when his brother asked him to deliver
some equipment from western Pennsylvania, where he was working. Cook stayed
for two weeks and never left.
Prior to coming to Emory, he worked for several contractors and was hired
at the University almost accidentally. Not looking seriously for another
job, Cook sent out his resume to about 50 places, and Emory called back.
I really wasnt hunting for work; its just something
you do to keep your name out there, he said. He interviewed on campus
a couple times, and six months later Emory offered him a job.
Youve got your Emory Eagle or your Emory crane, you can take
your choice, Cook said. I think the main reason I came to
Emory is because I love construction. Its been in my family, and
Ive been doing it my whole life. A place like Emory University is
like a small city. They always need a maintenance crew; theyre always
building something new. We always have something to do here.
And Cooks work wont end with Commencement. Just a couple weeks later, he has the Georgia Special Olympics, which hes volunteered for since coming to Emory. Primarily he helps out with the stage for opening ceremonies. Several of his FM co-workers also participate. We try to donate as much time as we can. he said.