Campus Life

Planning, collaboration ensure memorable commencement for graduating students

Making sure commencement ceremonies run smoothly and are a meaningful and memorable experience for everyone requires careful planning, collaboration and hard work by hundreds of Penn State staff and faculty members.

Graduating seniors share a laugh prior to commencement ceremonies at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On May 3, 4 and 5, nearly 9,100 students are expected to cross the stage at either the Bryce Jordan Center or Eisenhower Auditorium, as Penn State holds commencement ceremonies at University Park.

That same weekend, approximately 3,400 additional students will receive degrees at other Penn State campuses across the Commonwealth. On May 11, Penn State Law will hold commencement for an estimated 246 graduates, and on May 19, 213 students -- 141 medical students and 72 graduate students -- are expected to receive degrees from the College of Medicine at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Making sure commencement ceremonies run smoothly and are a meaningful and memorable experience for everyone requires careful planning, collaboration and hard work by hundreds of Penn State staff and faculty members.

This weekend on the University Park campus, each academic college as well as the Graduate School will have a separate ceremony. Attending the ceremonies will be thousands of family members and friends, eagerly watching their loved ones receive their hard-earned degrees and participating in one of life’s major milestones.

"We usually have an average of more than 50,000 people come through our doors this weekend," said Al Karosas, associate general manager at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Making sure commencement ceremonies run smoothly and are a meaningful and memorable experience for everyone requires careful planning, collaboration and hard work by hundreds of Penn State staff and faculty members, according to Barbara Ettaro in the Office of University Relations. As director of campus and community affairs, Ettaro oversees and coordinates all of the commencement ceremonies at University Park.

“The success of our commencement is first and foremost due to the meticulous planning and organization of everyone involved,” said Ettaro. “We try to make it as stress-free as possible for our graduates. They deserve a fitting celebration for all their hard work, and we try to give it to them."

Penn State holds three commencements each year at the University Park campus: spring, summer and fall. Dates are reserved years in advance to guarantee the availability of the appropriate venues, and are dictated by the academic calendar. This ensures that students’ parents and families can make arrangements in as far in advance as possible.

A 2009 time-lapse video offers a glimpse of the complexity of spring commencement events at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center at University Park. 

Ettaro and her assistant, Linda Padisak, start planning for the following year's University Park ceremonies immediately after finishing the current one. Spring is the largest and requires the most collaboration. Efforts begin in January with a meeting of all the college commencement coordinators. Each college's staff is responsible for arranging many of the details for their own ceremonies in the spring, in collaboration with Ettaro’s office.