May 5, 2008
Coordinating Commencement is ‘unreal team effort’
BY BEVERLY CLARK
Daniel Cook usually wears work boots and forgoes a tie in his job as a project manager for campus services, but on Commencement day, he breaks out the suit. “It makes my wife happy that I dress up for the event. It’s sort of old school, but it’s important,” Cook said.
For 15 years, Cook has overseen the physical setup and breakdown of Commencement and the dozens of events that surround the day and preceding weekend. No detail is too small, and with his dedicated army of campus services staff and volunteers from across the University, Cook’s goal is a flawless presentation.
“It’s an unreal team effort. People get here at 4 a.m. to start wiping down 15,000 chairs and making sure the grounds are perfect. When people start arriving at 7 a.m., they have no idea about the amount of work that just happened,” he said.
When the bagpipers lead in the procession of 3,600 or so graduates at 8 a.m. Monday, May 12, and President Jim Wagner steps up to the podium to begin Emory’s 163rd Commencement, it will mark the culmination of a year’s worth of work that began the afternoon of last year’s Commencement with an informal debriefing session.
“The biggest stressor is when the event is actually taking place. You’re looking for any detail that might be wrong. Things happen behind the scenes that are corrected with a hand signal and no one knows the better,” Cook said. “It’s an adrenalin rush, but I thrive on the challenge.”
In addition to Cook and his team, Emory’s Commencement is coordinated by Michael Kloss, director of the Office of University Convocations and Special Events, and Tricia Stultz, director of convocations.
“The payoff is when you see students you know walk across the stage and parents come up to you later to say it’s the best graduation they’ve ever attended. It makes you proud,” Cook said.
The keynote will be delivered by Home Depot co-founder and renowned philanthropist Bernie Marcus, who will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Three other individuals also will be recognized with honorary degrees: mental health advocate Mary Jane England, president of Regis College in Massachusetts; award-winning writer Ernest Gaines, author of “A Lesson Before Dying;” and renowned Harvard University biologist and conservationist E. O. Wilson.
Oxford College will stage its Commencement two days earlier, on Saturday, May 9, beginning at 10 a.m. on the College Green. The keynote speaker is Emory College Dean Robert Paul.
For more details about both Commencement ceremonies, including related events, dates, school ceremonies, locations and inclement weather plans, visit the Web site: www.emory.edu/COMMENCEMENT.