Posted on

Ceremonies Connect Past, Envision Future

For a person who plans ceremonies, there is nothing to compare with a royal wedding! On Saturday, I was up early, fixed a pot of tea with fresh scones, strawberry jam and whipped cream (the closest I could get to clotted cream in northern Alabama) and glued myself to my computer to soak in every detail of Harry and Meghan’s big day. It didn’t disappoint.

The ceremony was modern as befitted the bride and groom yet filled with traditions representing both of their heritages. The significance of the day was beautifully expressed through hundreds of symbolic details that tied past to present. Meghan chose to wear Queen Mary’s Diamond Bandeau Tiara which featured a brooch that the queen had received on her wedding day in 1893. Meghan carried a bouquet that had snips of myrtle from The Queen’s garden, just as other royal brides before her. Harry and Meghan’s rings were formed from a nugget of Welsh gold, following a 100-year tradition that was established by the late Queen Mother. The service incorporated not only traditional Church of England hymns, but songs from the African American gospel tradition in salute to Meghan’s heritage. Now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the couple took a celebratory ride through Windsor in an open carriage built in 1883, the same one that has been used for numerous royal weddings.

All of these highly meaningful expressions of tradition were juxtaposed against a moment in time that was anything but traditional. Who could ever have imagined the archbishop of Canterbury presiding in St. George’s Chapel alongside the African-American leader of the Episcopal Church? Not too many years ago, an heir to the throne would have been denied permission to marry a commoner, let along one that is American, divorced, and bi-racial. Marriage was for securing alliances, and marrying for love was not done, yet that is exactly what happened on Saturday.

Ceremonies and the traditions expressed through them, bring order and meaning to the passages in our lives. They separate time and announce publicly that who we were and who we are becoming, are two different things. Meghan and Harry would be just as married if they had forgone the elaborate ceremony and eloped to Las Vegas for a quickie service officiated by an Elvis impersonator. But ceremonies, whether they are weddings, commencements, inaugurations, military promotions, or funerals tie us to our roots and help us move forward to embrace life’s next phases. When witnessed by relatives, friends, and others, our support network is signing on to help us achieve success.

In academia, May is synonymous with commencement, a ceremony that announces to the world that students have completed their studies, have closed a chapter in their lives, and are ready to join the ranks of educated men and women.  Like the royal wedding, commencement embraces traditions that date back to other centuries. The highly symbolic regalia, faculty colors, and the grand procession with its presidential mace and medallion, all harken to the Middle Ages. But like the wedding, today’s ceremonies have also evolved modern modifications, building on the solid base of tradition but interpreting the occasion in the context of our era. We no longer hood students individually but this does not lessen the hood’s symbolism. Technology using computer bar codes lets us project graduates’ names on jumbo screens and while each name may or may not still be read from the podium, mom and dad treasure the iPhone photo they snapped when their child’s name appeared for all to see.

Ceremonies and traditions are an important part of our cultural fabric. They let us all know when something truly special is taking place. Modifications occur naturally with the passage of time, but as long as we incorporate them respectfully and meaningfully, they blend with cherished traditions to paint richer, more relevant ceremonies that ensure our celebrations will continue to have memorable meaning for generations to come, just like Meghan and Harry’s very special day.

Posted on

Alexander Hamilton To Get Honorary Degree

Even though he died in 1804, Alexander Hamilton is going to receive an honorary degree from Albany Law School at the college’s spring commencement.

Honorary degrees, higher education’s most prestigious recognition, are reserved for eminent individuals with national or international reputations. Hamilton certainly qualifies. He was one of the nation’s founding fathers, had a distinguished career as one of George Washington’s most trusted aides during the Revolutionary War, later practiced law, served as the first secretary of the treasury, and is considered the father of the nation’s financial system.

Why now? Honorary degrees are an opportunity to establish ties with a prominent person, to bask in the reflected glory of his or her accomplishments, and to generate some positive media buzz. In Hamilton’s case, Albany Law School said it is recognizing his contributions to the Albany, New York area where he practiced law and married into a prominent local family. With Hamilton currently riding a wave of rock star status thanks to the Broadway musical that bears his name, tiny Albany Law, an old, private school with only 372 students, is riding his coattails with a creative local angle that has brought an enormous PR bounce. Hamilton never actually earned a law degree, so awarding him an honorary is the perfect way to call attention to the school. Honorary degrees don’t typically get much publicity, but this announcement has generated extensive media coverage.

So how can a guy who has been dead for 214 years qualify for a degree? Honorary degrees are conferred honoris causa, a Latin term meaning “for the sake of honor.” They are typically doctoral degrees, though not equivalent to Ph.D. s, nor do they entitle the recipient to the same professional privileges as individuals who have earned degrees.

Honorary degree recipients are leading scholars, discoverers, inventors, authors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, social activists, and leaders in politics and government. Occasionally, honorary degrees are awarded to people who have rendered lifelong service to a university through board membership, volunteerism, or major financial contributions. At some schools, honorary degree recipients deliver the commencement address, but this is not a requirement.

Honorary degrees are often presented at commencement to take advantage of the large audience and the pomp and circumstance already in place. The candidate is part of the platform party and processes wearing a black doctoral gown or the school’s custom doctoral regalia. Candidates are hooded and receive a diploma and a citation. In the case of a posthumous degree like Hamilton’s, a surrogate stands in to accept these items.

What to Call an Honorary Degree Recipient

Honorary degree recipients are properly addressed as “doctor” in correspondence from the university that awarded the degree and in conversation on the campus. But honorary degree recipients should not refer to themselves as “doctor,” nor should they use the title on business cards or in correspondence.

The honorary degree recipient is entitled to use the appropriate honorary abbreviation behind his or her name, for example, (full name), Litt.D. On a resume or in a biographical sketch, they may indicate an honorary degree by writing out the degree followed by the words honoris causa to signify that the degree is honorary, not earned.

When addressing a person who has received an honorary degree from another university, it is not correct to use the term “doctor.”

Because many people misunderstand these nuances, it is courteous to provide recipients with a card or brochure to explain how to appropriately signify their degrees. Tuck the card in with the hood and citation when these items are shipped to them after the ceremony or send in a follow-up congratulatory letter.

So, while I don’t know for certain, my guess is Alexander Hamilton will receive a Doctor of Laws (L.L. D.) and were his ghost to ever to appear at Albany Law School, it would be correct for all there to address him as Doctor Hamilton. Back in his New York City law office, however, he would be just plain Mr. Hamilton.

For more information about honorary degrees, including presenting the degree, awarding it posthumously, regalia for the recipient, and how to appropriately host the honoree, order my book Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol, available at http://case.org.

 

 

 

Posted on

Create Comfortable Meeting Seating

Hotels and airlines have one thing in common: They seat people too closely together. People, especially Americans, don’t like to be pressed together with body parts touching, and definitely not when the contact involves a stranger. Yet, prevailing meeting management does just that. I just spent the afternoon in a jammed hotel conference room with 100 other hot and uncomfortable souls. Why? Because the chairs were “ganged,” that is, locked together in long straight rows. We were sardined in to a tiny partitioned hunk of a much larger ballroom with no less than 30 hot can lights blazing down on us throughout the hour- and one-half presentation. I had my shoulders scrunched together to stay in the 18-inch boundary of “my” space and couldn’t have crossed my legs if I tried because the space between the rows was too narrow.

By the end of the session the audience, dressed in winter business suits and sweaters, was sweating and fanning. It must have been 83 degrees in there.

The presentation was standing room only, but a closer look revealed there were lots of empty seats scattered throughout the room. That is because people would rather stand than crawl over a row of others to shoehorn themselves into a too-small vacant seat. Scattered vacancies demonstrate that people instinctively leave blanks to create a more appropriate boundary between themselves and others. We need our personal space in order to relax, listen, and concentrate. Claustrophobic seating makes grumpy participants who want to leave—the exact opposite of the mood event planners strive to create.

Seating is an important and often overlooked factor in the success of a meeting or event. If people can’t see and hear, if they are crowded, feel trapped, and can’t get out to use the restroom, effectiveness suffers. If you can’t think about anything except how uncomfortable you are it is difficult to pay attention.

What’s more, jammed seating can be a safety hazard. Beyond the possible violation of fire code capacities, meeting safety demands that people be able to access aisles and get to exits without tripping over chairs. One safety expert has noted that because interlocking “ganged” seats are heavy, cannot be easily separated and quickly moved away, they become an added hazard in an emergency situation when the difference between life and death could be the ability to rapidly exit a space.

Comfortable seating begins with selecting a right-sized room. Better to have a space that is slightly larger than needed than to cram people into a room that is too small. First consider what the audience needs to do. Are tables required to hold computers or will participants be seated theatre style in rows of chairs? Are you planning a board meeting, or will everyone be watching a webinar? The meeting’s purpose and length should always drive the room arrangement.

Check out the chairs. Are they in good condition, not wobbly, clean, and comfortable to sit in for an extended time? If a theatre style scheme is needed, arrange the chairs with four inches between seats rather than allowing them to touch. Instead of putting them in a straight line, encourage better audience interaction by using a curved arrangement which lets people watch the speaker and see the screen without turning their heads. It also allows them to see each other, thus stimulating discussion. Paul Radde, the meetings industry seating guru, explains in his must-have book, “Seating Matters State of the Art Seating Arrangements,” (thrival.com), that a curved arrangement can actually increase the number of chairs that will fit.

Next, instead of creating long rows that are difficult for people to enter and exit, cut the semi-circle into pie shaped wedges by creating several aisles. This way, people can get in and out of seats with much less difficulty. Make the rows as short as possible.

Another tactic to try is ditching the commonly used center aisle and instead separating seating into three groups, a center section and two side sections, with two aisles separating the sections. This allows shorter rows and easier access. Why leave that prime middle of the room real estate, the space with the optimal viewing angle, empty?

A critical comfort measure is the spacing between rows. It should be at least 17 inches though many hotels will use only the 12-inch minimum required by many states’ fire codes. Rows that are too close together create the “knees in the chin” feeling that we all experience on airliners. To check spacing, use a tape measure beginning at the front edge of the chair bottom and stopping when it touches the top of the back of the chair in the next row. Ensuring a comfortable amount of leg room also creates space for people to place personal belongings such as tote bags and back packs on the floor without blocking the aisle. Wider spacing is imperative when your guest list includes older people.

Philosophically committing to use more comfortable room arrangements will likely be easy. Getting set-up crews (especially in hotels) to honor your requests may be another matter because they are trained to squeeze for maximum seating and to create tight, straight rows with touching chairs. Begin by issuing clear instructions including an illustration. On campus, plan to be present when set-up is being done. At a hotel or conference center, chances are the set-up will happen after-hours when you are not present. Be certain your hotel sales representative knows your plan because if you have not provided clear instructions, arrive and want furniture to be rearranged, you will probably be charged a penalty unless you can substantiate that your instructions were not followed. Provide two copies of your illustration, one for the sales representative, one for the set-up crew.

Once you’ve got seating arranged, adjust the room temperature to 69- to 70-degrees, depending on the season and what guests will be wearing. A 69-degree room when people have on business suits may be fine, but on a hot summer day when people are wearing lightweight clothing, 69 may feel chilly. Finally, turn down the glaring recessed ceiling lights, pick a seat and enjoy a comfortable, productive meeting!

 

Posted on

Super Bowl LII Is A NSSE Lesson

 

Some people will watch Super Bowl LII to root for their team, others to catch a glimpse of puppies with Clydesdales, but I’ll watch to admire an exquisitely complicated and perfectly orchestrated NSSE (National Special Security Event)

A major public event that attracts a large attendance, includes dignitaries, or that has historic, political, or religious significance may be designated by the Department of Homeland Security as an NSSE. Many of America’s marquee events that could be attractive targets for terrorism or other disruptions fall into this category. Typically, such events are of a size and scope that is far beyond the scale of local resources. A NSSE determination is based on a SEAR (Special Event Assessment Rating). This system assesses threats and incorporates a risk analysis and then ranks the event on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being the highest priority. Super Bowl is definitely a SEAR 1 event.

Once designated an NSSE, federal and local agencies work together to construct a security plan that covers everything from traffic and crowd control to hotel security, tactical units, communications, volunteers, evacuation plans, access, and much more. Work is done in committees. The Minneapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and Minneapolis Police Department have been working for two years in conjunction with federal agencies to develop security plans including snipers on rooftops and the largest influx of federal agents in Super Bowl History. Most guests will never see the extra layers of personnel and resources assembled to keep them safe but security personnel and systems will be everywhere.

Campus event planners need to be aware of what constitutes an NSSE because we frequently host events that might qualify. Occasions such as presidential debates, visits by international leaders or religious officials such as the Pope, or high-profile sporting events like an NCAA championship game are all candidates. An NSSE’s heightened and complicated security arrangements are not business as usual meaning that we need to learn how to appropriately engage in security planning. Security on such a massive scale forces planners to give up some autonomy and requires that we cannot adjust plans at the last minute (as we often do) without first conferring with those in charge of security.

Recently, a group of lighting professionals were working at an NSSE. The crew had been instructed the night before by the event planner to dress in show black without logos, bring their backpacks, and set up underneath the bleachers inside of the secure perimeter. The problem was, she never told security officials of her last-minute directive. While the crew were waiting in the designated place, an officer spotted the unknown men and an alert went up the chain of command. Security quickly responded, detaining the men while an investigation took place. The situation was soon resolved but it was unnerving to reflect on the fact that the men had been in the sights of snipers. The moral of the story is, during an NSSE, event planners are no longer the final authority but part of a much larger team. We must be forthcoming with information, be aware of the potentially dangerous consequences of our decisions, and be fully engaged in planning and briefings.

If a major security event is on your horizon

  • Begin planning early by contacting local law enforcement;
  • Take part in committee meetings;
  • If you are not included, speak up and get involved;
  • Follow directions;
  • Never change plans without first consulting the security team;
  • Attend briefings as appropriate so you know what’s going on.

To learn more about NSSE designation requirements, go to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, http://www.dhs.gov

 

Posted on

Fall Convocation Salutes Tradition With Contemporary Twist

Fall Convocation, one of the happiest days on the academic calendar, is in the books for 2017. Held the night before classes begin, the purpose is to affirm each student’s decision to attend the university, to begin to transfer school traditions, and to build pride.

Like many southern schools, ours takes place outdoors, never mind that late August is almost always oppressively hot and sticky. This year, more than 1,000 freshmen marched en masse to the campus greenway to officially commemorate their entry into the university. They were greeted by waiting faculty, applauding upperclassmen, and a program of short talks from the president, provost, and an alumnus. The student government leader administered the university’s student creed and a music faculty member led the singing of alma mater.

“Convocation” means a gathering. In academics, convocations are held for a variety of purposes from opening the new academic year to awarding honorary degrees. They are a tradition with roots in the clerical processions of the Roman Catholic Church dating back to the Middle Ages.

What I like is that while Fall Convocation nods to the past and rich academic tradition, ours has a definite contemporary bent. It is a strange blend of seriousness set against the casual atmosphere of a summer evening on the campus lawn. The ceremony’s music is played from a smartphone. Faculty no longer dress in regalia, instead, they wear polo shirts in school colors. Students march in matching tee-shirts specially ordered for the occasion. No solemn procession this, instead, students jubilantly and boisterously process to the site singing, clapping, and cheering along the way. But when the ceremony begins, all is seriousness.

Students are silent as their class flag is presented and then listen intently as the president and provost encourage and admonish them to study hard. They earnestly repeat the student creed and work hard to get through the unfamiliar alma mater.

As the ceremony ends, another university tradition is observed. Faculty form a double line through which the new students process. Faculty greet them individually and hand them symbolic tassels in our school colors, blue and white, as talismans to remind them of their goal of earning a degree. Four years hence, students will process through the double-line again, at their commencement, where faculty will congratulate them on earning a real tassel—one in the color of their degree.

From the “tassel tunnel” students arrive the president’s picnic, their first official meal on campus. They are joined by upperclassmen and the picnic quickly morphs into a party with a live band. The evening is capped by fireworks.

Ceremonies are important markers for celebrating key moments in our lives. Weddings, retirements, awards, and funerals mark life’s defining moments. Incorporating the tradition of convocation into the frothy week of freshmen welcome makes a powerful impression that will be remembered long after the foam party or freshman mixer are forgotten. Fall Convocation marks the entry of a student into the next phase of life and plays an important and memorable role in building early and strong bonds that eventually translate into alumni support.

As we pass traditional ceremonies along, it is important to remember that to be meaningful, sustained, and treasured, ceremonies must (and will) be reinterpreted by each generation.