U-M commencement: It takes a village!

This Saturday, Alaina Wollner will swap her day job as an executive assistant in Facilities & Operations to drive golf carts at the Big House as one of more than 100 volunteers for Spring Commencement. She’ll arrive at Michigan Stadium at 7:30 a.m. to help guests with accessibility needs get from the parking lot to their seats. It’s her third year volunteering for the event. “The last two years I handed out programs,” she says. “It sounds easy, but those programs are heavy!”

At 8:00 a.m. the gates will open and the mad rush of guests will begin, not slowing until about 15 minutes after the ceremony begins at 10:00. “It’s fun to greet people who’ve never been in the stadium before and be a part of their excitement,” says Alaina. “We also try to ease the nerves of those who are worried or overwhelmed.”

Volunteers take a little break during the ceremony. Each volunteer receives a voucher to the concession stands to get a snack, and this year the Athletic Director’s suite has been reserved for them to gather and watch the festivities. Just before the ceremony ends at 11:45, the volunteers head back to their posts to get ready for the mass exodus from the stadium. They take pictures, direct the crowd to the right exits and help guests get back to their cars. The stadium is empty and all is quiet by about 1:00 p.m.

“I love the energy and excitement, and being around people who are experiencing this memorable life event,” says Alaina, herself a 2008 U-M graduate (when the ceremony was held outside on the Diag). While each year is different, she notes that the spirit and tradition of commencement are a constant and part of what makes the experience so special.

Every commencement volunteer completes a required training ahead of time. First-year volunteers are given t-shirts to wear to the event and second-year volunteers receive sweatshirts. This year, in honor of the Bicentennial, all volunteers are receiving a new t-shirt with the Bicentennial theme. There’s also a series of prize drawings for gift cards or football tickets each year, with volunteers’ names submitted once for every year they have participated.

If you’d like to be part of commencement next year, look for an article in the University Record in late March or early April 2018 calling for volunteers. You can also contact contact Kristen Jensen in the Office of University Development for information on how to get involved.

(Photo credit: Michigan Photography, Scott Soderberg)