Published May 14, 2021
UB resumed in-person commencement this spring, with limited capacity, and is holding ceremonies at two outdoor venues: UB Stadium and a tent set up in the Furnas lot. That, of course, has posed some unique challenges for the team in the Office of Special Events, along with other UB employees who work to make commencement a truly special event.
Behind all the pomp and circumstance, UB employees are working nonstop to ensure that each commencement ceremony goes off without a hitch, so that graduates can focus on what matters most: reveling in their achievement and sharing the moment with those closest to them.
UB’s last outdoor general commencement ceremony took place in 1972, at Rotary Field on the South Campus. In the years since, several schools have held outdoor commencements, with the School of Architecture and Planning the last, in 2009.
Preparing the campus for the 17 in-person ceremonies was no small feat. Countless people have contributed from the planning through to execution, attending to the details attendees will appreciate immensely.
It is impossible to document all those efforts, but with this photo essay, University Communications photographer Meredith Forrest Kulwicki aims to highlight some of the behind-the-scenes work that took place this spring.
Regina Ticco, producer with CFA Production Group, has been keeping an eye on the details at each of the virtual commencement ceremonies her group has produced video packages for this spring as a ‘just-in-case’ measure.
By mid-April, the team recorded more than 50 speakers, from President Satish K. Tripathi to alumni speakers, at locations on all three of UB’s campuses. In total, the group spent over 500 hours videotaping, producing and editing these ceremonies.
“While we know most of these recordings will never be used, we understand the value of ensuring this important university event happens in some format, during this very uncertain year,” Ticco said.
Meanwhile, Dave Jordan, Paul Calandra and Sean Krueger from the CFA Production Group are also working closely on the details of the in-person events, thinking through lighting on the stages and the effects of wind on sound quality, for example.
“It was a challenge to work on both the live, in-person ceremony and the virtual ceremony at the same time,” said Calandra, director of photography. “Particularly hoping and knowing that the virtual ceremony would not be used.”
More than 1,300 students this year have registered to take part — both in person and virtually — in the College of Arts and Sciences’ undergraduate commencements, traditionally the largest of the UB’s ceremonies, happening on Sunday. For reference, approximately 1,500 students participated in the two ceremonies in 2019.
“It’s all [the students] want, to spend quality time with their peers to celebrate, even with this outside, masked atmosphere,” said Anne Mecca, assistant director for strategic programs for CAS.
Discussions around commencement started in December 2020, says Mecca, but they were working with a lot of unknowns until mid-March when President Satish K. Tripathi announced plans for in-person, outdoor ceremonies.
“It was really tough because guidelines kept changing,” said Mecca. “I’m excited we are able to do it in person.”
The stadium venue presents more logistical challenges than Alumni Arena, with the weather being a huge wild card, say Mecca, who is ignoring weather reports until just a few days before the ceremony. Mecca says CAS ordered six cases (or 1,500) ponchos, just in case.
While the stadium doesn’t accommodate for some of Mecca’s favorite elements of the ceremony — the dimmed lights and balloon drops — she looks forward to helping students celebrate their hard work and graduation.
“When the students process in and are looking for their parents, it’s such a wonderful moment,” said Mecca. “It makes me teary-eyed.”
Commencement ceremonies are held in two locations on the North Campus.
The first is UB Stadium, which will hold 1,500 guests. A 25,000-square-foot tent was also installed in the Furnas lot, which can accommodate 500 graduates and guests.
Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenge of setting up the commencement venues took several weeks and lots of people to accomplish.
Doug Borsuk, logistics manager with Event Planning and Services, has been helping with events at UB for nearly 20 years. He started working with Athletics, and now does everything from press events to distinguished speakers. But commencement, he says, is the “pinnacle of my year.”
“It has everything an event could offer,” Borsuk said. “All the challenges and all the rewards you could want.”
Borsuk works closely will all the school coordinators to help each execute their own special details, from the School of Dental Medicine having graduate names taped to their chairs, to discussions over pyrotechnics for the College of Arts and Sciences.
It makes for long days, with lots of moving parts and issues to solve, but Borsuk said he enjoys the environment and how events bring people together.
“There is so much team work, that’s what I love the most.”
Commencement is all about the students, and this year graduates and their loved ones were thrilled to be able to celebrate in person. To help graduates prepare, Student Engagement held a “Trick Your Tassel” event, along with opportunities for soon-to-be graduates to have their photo taken with UB mascot Victor E. Bull.