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Ceremonies Mark Milestones

According to the BBC, 13.6 million people in the UK paused their lives to watch Saturday’s televised funeral service for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. They were joined by another 7.5 million people globally who watched online. The interest shows not only respect for the Prince, but the importance of ceremony in our lives.

Ceremonies mark milestones and tell the world, from this point forward, things are different. When ceremonies are missing, we lose the sense of accomplishment and closure that they impart. At weddings, ceremonies bring two families together, at commencement, they signify that the graduate has completed a course of study and is prepared to embark on the next phase of life. At funerals, they give us a way to show respect for what the deceased as contributed and provide a structure for saying goodbye. Ceremonies also link us to those people and happenings that have come before us through colors, shapes, flowers, regalia, music, and the spoken word. And so it was Saturday as the world witnessed the Prince’s beautiful, albeit scaled down, socially distanced funeral.

The large response to Prince Philip’s funeral also underscores how important it is for traditional springtime academic ceremonies like awards presentations, retirements, service anniversaries, and commencement to resume despite the pandemic. Like the royal family, we must all find ways to present these important occasions with the dignity they deserve as best we can in light of pandemic precautions. When ceremonies are cancelled or missing like they were during 2020, we lose the sense of closure, of becoming part of the “family” of people who have achieved these things before us, and the sense of the accomplishment that they impart.

The Duke’s funeral was a poignant reflection of his personality and a salute to the things that meant most to him in life including his military career, his passion for nature, and his legacy of service to Queen and country. Price Philip planned much of the occasion and included many powerful symbols, both lighthearted and serious. He designed a customized Land Rover to bear his coffin, reflecting the vehicle’s status as one of his life-long favorites. He selected the music and his favorite passages from scripture. Most notably, his coffin spoke volumes about things of which he was most proud: It was draped with his personal standard and atop it lay his navy cap, officer’s sword, and a wreath from the Queen.

This year, many colleges and universities are returning to holding in-person commencement ceremonies. Most are modified to be Covid compliant by limiting crowd size, eliminating the traditional handshakes between the president, deans, and graduates; requiring masks, and utilizing more and smaller ceremonies. Many will also be livestreamed to accommodate people who cannot attend in person, thus magnifying the impact of the day and enabling many, many more people to share the moment.

In the end, the extra effort required to create the opportunity for graduates to partake in these milestone ceremonies is an investment in a lifetime of pride and loyalty, not only for the graduates, but for the families who helped them accomplish their dreams. Like Prince Philip’s funeral, these beautiful moments filled with symbols and tradition, signal to us all that it is time to move on to the next chapter of life and despite all that has happened in the last 14 months, to do so in a celebratory, positive way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Revoking A Recognition

Revoking an honorary degree is a very serious and highly unusual occurrence but that is exactly what Middlebury College, an elite private school in Vermont, did in January.

Rudy Giuliani, the college’s commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient in 2005 was presented the honor for his leadership as mayor of New York City after the September 11 World Trade Center attack. He was stripped of this recognition by the school’s trustees as a result of his role in the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol (http://middleburycampus.com).

Things like that are never supposed to happen, but humans being human, sometimes they do. When a recipient’s behavior reflects poorly on the school and becomes a public relations liability, revoking a recognition can become necessary. This is especially true in the case of honorary degrees, academia’s highest honor, one of the purposes of which is to enable the school to voluntarily affiliate with a prominent person and thereby bask in the reflected glory of his or her achievements.

Human behavior can also cause problems with a variety of other prestigious recognitions. One school is currently dealing with how to disassociate from a well-known alumnus who was recently arrested for running a child pornography ring, being involved in human trafficking, and dealing drugs. As a prominent businessman, frequent and generous major donor, and former alumni president, his name is on plaques, pavers, and the rolls of distinguished award recipients across campus.

Another school faced the embarrassing removal of the name of an alumnus who was a beloved high-profile sports celebrity from its new alumni center after the man reneged on a multi-million-dollar pledge. His bravado had ignited and led the campaign to design and build the center, a project that while needed, was far beyond the reach of institutional budgets. The school saluted his enthusiasm by prematurely naming the building in his honor. Turns out he never had the money and the university was stuck trying to pay for a building it could not afford.

While the vetting process for honorary degrees is usually careful, and selection committees deliberate thoughtfully before choosing recipients of annual awards, past performance doesn’t necessarily guarantee that today’s honorees will be the enduring positive examples that trustees and committees hope for.

Give Yourself an Out

Just like well-crafted emergency plans for use in case of disaster, every set of award criteria should include a written mention about if, why, and how recognitions could be rescinded. This practice can also be extended to job descriptions for members elected to campus governing bodies and advisory boards. Craft such statements in the hope that they will never be needed and set a high bar for implementation. Having a way out should never be so easy that the process could be overused for reasons of politics or petty disagreements.

With spring commencement only a few months away, now is a good time to review honorary degree, award, and board member criteria and consult with campus counsel to be certain you are covered in the unlikely event that yesteryear’s hero becomes today’s disgrace.

For more information about honorary degrees, see my blog post “Alexander Hamilton to Get Honorary Degree,” or order my book, Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol available from the online bookstore at http://case.org.

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The Mace Was Missed

Eagle-eyed ceremony planners no doubt noticed a traditional symbol was missing from the platform at President Biden’s inauguration. The Mace of the Republic which symbolizes the authority of the House of Representatives was not present.

On a typical inauguration day, the House of Representatives goes into session, then recesses to walk as a group to witness the ceremony. The sergeant of arms, carrying the mace, leads a procession of the members of the House and stands behind them holding it throughout the inauguration. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the House did not go in to session on January 20 so the mace was not used in the ceremony.

Crafted in 1841 after the British destroyed our country’s original mace when they burned the Capitol during the War of 1812, the mace has 13 ebony rods representing the 13 original colonies. It is topped by a silver eagle perched on a silver globe. It symbolizes the authority of the House and is always present when the House is in session. It is carried in to the chamber each legislative day and posted on a green marble pedestal on the rostrum to the right of the Speaker. It is occasionally presented in front of an unruly member to restore order.

Academic Mace

The tradition of mace as symbols of authority dates to the Middle Ages when mace were used as war clubs. The roots of the practice can be traced as far back as ancient Rome. An academic mace symbolizes the authority invested in the president by a school’s governing body. Much like the Mace of the Republic and the House of Representatives, when the authority is present, the mace is present. This is why the mace is an integral part of commencement exercises, when students are invested of degrees by the lawful authority of the university, and why the mace plays an important ceremonial role in academic presidential inaugurations.

While some schools possess an ancient mace, the article can be created at any time in a school’s history. Maces are often commissioned to commemorate a milestone anniversary or presidential inauguration, frequently incorporating artifacts, precious stones, and rare wood.

When to Use the Mace

The mace is used only on formal academic occasions, such as commencement, convocations, and presidential inaugurations, when participants are in full regalia and the president is involved.

Because the mace is a symbol of presidential authority as the university’s legal representative with the right to govern, it is carried in procession immediately before the president. When the mace is present, the authority of the university is present.

More information about how to use a mace on campus is available in my book, Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol, available from CASE at case.org.

 

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Hybrid Commencement Needs Essentials

Hastily conceived hybrid commencement ceremonies were implemented by most schools last spring as the pandemic was building at the precise time spring exercises were about to happen. Many schools promised graduates that later in the summer, or perhaps this fall, they could return to campus to walk in a traditional ceremony. Some schools mailed diplomas with no ceremony, and others held virtual ceremonies and mailed diplomas later. Things like awarding honorary degrees and hosting notable speakers were put on hold. Now, with the Covid-19 all-clear still not happening, schools are left wondering how to fill the promises of postponed in-person ceremonies and how to go forward safely without creating a backlog of graduates who are waiting to be recognized.

As the author of Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol (available at www.case.org) I have received numerous inquiries about to handle sticky situations like diplomas that were mailed with no degree conferral being spoken, whether or not to virtually award honorary degrees to people who should have received them last May, and, how to accommodate the graduates whose in-person ceremonies were postponed from May, to August, to maybe December, which in truth, looks doubtful.

The best answer is to be certain your ceremony, whether virtual, in-person, or a combination, includes what the “Academic Costume Code and Academic Ceremony Guide,” calls “the essential elements of the ceremony.” The guide, agreed to in 1895 by a committee appointed by the American Council on Education, is the authority on such matters. (You can see it on this website by clicking on the “academic ceremonies” tab.) According to the code, the essentials of commencement are “the conferring of degrees and the commencement address.”

Conferral 

Excited to get their diplomas, most students don’t realize the conferral—the actual speaking of the words that award their degrees—is the true highlight of the ceremony. This happens when the president, or whomever is designated by your school’s governing body, confers the degrees by reciting a formulary, usually something like, “Upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power invested in me by the Board of Trustees, I confer upon each of you the bachelor’s degree with all the rights and privileges there unto pertaining.” This step is repeated for each level of degree. Without it, the degree technically isn’t official.

Unfortunately, quickly formatted commencement alternatives sometimes left this critical step out. If you are planning a virtual ceremony, be certain the president or chancellor, says the degree conferral language for each group of recipients. Once done, diplomas can be mailed with total peace of mind.

While deans can properly distribute diplomas and congratulate graduates, it is not appropriate for them to host ceremonies that give the impression they are awarding degrees unless they have specifically been given authority from your school’s governing body to confer them. If this power has been granted, they need to say the conferral words.

Degrees Were Conferred, Now They Want to March

Some graduates will want to return to participate in a commencement ceremony, craving the sense of accomplishment and closure that comes with it. If degrees were properly conferred and diplomas mailed over the summer, and now graduates are returning to march in a ceremony, it is incorrect to call them “candidates.” They are graduates. In such a case, it would be more accurate to refer to the ceremony that includes them as a “commencement celebration,” or similar. It would be improper to read the conferral language again, but correct to read their names and have them march across the stage for congratulations and a photo with the president.

Commencement Address

While the commencement address is a much-maligned tradition, I think it is especially important to include words of inspiration from your school’s highest authority in this time of disconnectedness. Even if the address isn’t from a famous person, words of encouragement from the president should absolutely be included in your virtual or hybrid ceremony. Commencement is one of life’s major milestone celebrations and the feelings the school imparts to graduates on their way out the door will likely greatly impact their alumni and donor attitudes going forward.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Honorary degrees are higher education’s most prestigious recognition. They are reserved for eminent individuals with national or international reputations. One of the main reasons for awarding honorary degrees is so that the school can highlight the prestigious people with whom it is associated and host them on campus. Not doing so in person diminishes the stature of the honor, deprives students of the chance to meet them or hear them speak, and robs the university of the opportunity to host them.

For these reasons, it would be preferable to postpone the presentation of honorary degrees until the person or persons, can be present and take part in all of the pomp and ceremony of commencement. Simply mailing honorary degrees to last spring’s recipients as has been suggested by a group of one school’s deans, is not an adequate representation of the occasion.

For more information about honorary degrees, see my blog post, “Alexander Hamilton to Get Honorary Degree.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Experience A Better Employee Awards Ceremony

Spring semester often includes employee recognition events honoring years of service which means people are given thank-you gifts of ad specialty products ranging from coffee mugs to key rings to cheap watches. This year, supplies may be disrupted because coronavirus has idled factories in China, the place where many logoed tchotchkes originate.  The cut-off of these goods gives us the opportunity to hit the reset button and find more environmentally friendly, creative, and useful ways to show loyal employees appreciation. While service award ceremonies often get short shrift from events planners because they fall into the category of routine annual events, these occasions may be the only recognition a person receives for his or her efforts. We need to make the day truly special. Here are some gift ideas that are far better than a plaque, certificate, another tee shirt, plastic water bottle, or portable cell phone charger, and that will actually be used and appreciated.

Shop on campus. Research shows that Millennials, the generation that will comprise the majority of your 1-5 year honorees, don’t want more stuff. Instead, they want to experience new things. Ditch the car coffee mugs and look no further than your own campus for goodies this group will enjoy. Collect a selection of things like tickets to campus theatre, music, and athletic events, concerts, vouchers for food courts and dining halls, coffee shops, and the bookstore. Let people pick from the selection to enjoy a gift that will give them a campus experience that interests them.   

Some people do want stuff, so supplement from inventory on hand. Not everyone wants an experience so do plan to provide options. Select items from your bookstore, or visit the events office gift closet. Often we have odds and ends of high-end gift items that were purchased for specific occasions. Currently our gift closet includes logoed cutting boards, pad folios, good quality pens, etched stemless wine glasses, umbrellas, and autographed books by faculty authors. There is insufficient quantity of any of these things to use at a future event, but because they are high-quality and aren’t labeled with a specific event name or date, they would make nice additions to the recognition gift table. As a bonus, you’re recycling instead of throwing items away or warehousing them indefinitely.

More service? Bigger prize. Beginning with 10 years of service, employees are often given more expensive items. Sadly these frequently include versions of outmoded prizes no one really wants like framed photos of campus buildings, key rings, logoed paperweights, cheap acrylic trophies, business card holders, and fancy pad folios.  All too often, these gifts become bookcase clutter or junk-drawer dandruff. (Not to mention that many categories of employees have no use for office sit-arounds because their work stations are not desks.)  Instead, reward employees who have more years of service with things like a certificate for professional development or a continuing education class, a fitness center membership, an upgrade to a stand-up desk, a uniform voucher, or a generous bookstore gift certificate. How about a personal day off (or two) that doesn’t need to be charged to vacation time?

Give long-time employees what they really want. At our school, employees with more than 25 years used to receive a logoed wooden rocking chair. While this was a pricey prize, it pleased some but offended many and the concept is definitely passé in 2020! Of course, the longest serving employees deserve the best gifts. How about giving something that everyone on campus covets–an annual parking pass or a reserved parking place for a year? Perhaps season tickets to his or her favorite sport or VIP passes to your school’s premier concert or special occasion.  Now those are gifts worth receiving!

Employee recognition is important. Research shows that employees who feel appreciated, recognized, and valued are more loyal, work harder, and have less turnover so it is important to personalize the occasion for each honoree. An effective way to give individuals a moment in the spotlight is to stage your ceremony like a commencement. Call each individual’s name as he or she walks onstage, shakes hands with the president, and has a photo taken. Distribute the photos digitally with a personalized note of appreciation. Serve refreshments while honorees browse the gift tables and make their selections. Your honorees will thank you and you’ll never go back to ball caps and cell phone grips again!

For more tips about planning a meaningful ceremony, click on the special events tab on my web site,  https://correctoncampus.com.

 

 

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Commencement is the Happiest of Days!

I love the peace of campus the Monday after commencement. Everything is quiet, no traffic, no parking challenges, no stressed-out students rushing from place-to-place. Faculty are gone and those of us involved in commencement can enjoy a long, quiet cup of coffee at our desk for the first time in weeks. Campus has the feeling of having been washed clean, much like the tranquility that follows a gentle spring rain.

Commencement is my favorite ceremony of the year. It’s a day when everyone is happy. Parents are proud, significant others celebrate, and graduates are ecstatic. It marks the end of years of work and holds the promise of adventures to come. It tells the world that you are different from the person you were yesterday.

That said, it is undeniable that commencement prep is stressful and can be frantic. Sometimes it’s downright aggravating. There are multiple ceremonies with a million moving parts, each one integral to the success of the whole. Each ceremony has its own cast of VIPs, seating arrangements, speeches, special awards, honorary degrees, and platform participants. Often there are but a few hours to re-set, re-do and be ready for the next “show.”  Our team manages just the dignitaries, a tiny slice of the thousands of people who participate and attend. In the days before, we dog trustees to confirm their plans, hunt for students who’ve forgotten to pick up their families’ VIP seating tickets, follow-up with people who have failed to rsvp, and cajole dignitaries who would rather skip preliminary events.

And commencement day is not a lone occasion, rather it is typically the culmination of other related activities all nested together in a cluster of celebratory events leading up to the big day. At our school, these include a formal dinner at the president’s home for the outstanding graduate from each college and the honorary degree recipients, a nursing pinning ceremony, the presentation of college awards and, of course, student parties. It requires physically moving tons of boxes of diplomas, platform party regalia, instruments and music stands, gonfalons and flags, and the university’s most precious relics, the mace and chain of office.

If I had any doubt whether it’s all worthwhile, that doubt was erased by one of my events office colleagues, a 50-year-old woman who received her master of business administration degree. Watching commencement work its magic on her even though she has helped facilitate for years and has been up to her ears in commencement prep for weeks, was gratifying. We observed with pride as she strode onto the stage, shook hands with the president and practically floated off the stairs. Afterward, she recounted how when the starter told her to go, she was frozen in place, then certain that the reader had said her name incorrectly, and finally, didn’t remember her two-foot-off the-floor dance down the stairs followed by hugging everyone she passed. She had what another colleague of mine calls “commencement face,” that gobsmacked, euphoric look that comes with realizing you’ve just accomplished something amazing. Commencement is the celebration of dreams, hopes, and visions. Like the work it took to get there, it’s definitely worth doing.

Congratulations to the class of 2019 and, in case you were too excited to hear the degree conferral formulary, welcome to the society of learned women and men.

 

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Books for Campus Events Planners

 

I’m proud to announce that updated editions of two of my most popular books, Special Events Planning for Success, 3rdedition, and Etiquette and Protocol A Guide for Campus Events, 2ndedition, are now available from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Both have been extensively updated to reflect our current societal norms including everything from managing burgeoning dietary preferences to extending electronic invitations to properly addressing same sex couples. These new editions join my book, Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol to serve as quick references (and sometimes argument solvers) for the situations we face on campus every day. I hope you will add them to your bookshelf and refer to them often. Please order at http://case.org

Here is a list of titles that I consider indispensable reading for people who plan special events and ceremonies and who welcome VIP and international guests on campus. These books belong in every campus event planner’s office to serve as quick references when deadlines must be met. They are also excellent reading for newcomers for whom little formal onsite training may be available.

Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol, by April L. Harris. A reference for commencement, convocation, the meaning of academic symbols and how to use them. Includes suggested ceremony line-ups.

Choosing Civility, The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct, by P.M. Forni. Food for thought about why what we do every day is important in making our world a more pleasant place.

Disability Etiquette Matters by Ellen L. Shackelford and Marguerite Edmonds. An excellent quick reference for interacting appropriately with people with disabilities.

Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18thedition, Manners for a New Worldby Peggy Post, Anna Post, Lizzie Post, and Daniel Post Sending. A contemporary resource for general etiquette questions.

Etiquette and Protocol A Guide for Campus Events, 2ndedition, by April L. Harris. A quick reference for answers on the questions campus events planners encounter everyday including academic forms of address, symbols of office, and faculty colors.

Event Leadership for a New World, 4thedition by Joe Goldblatt. An excellent textbook that teaches everything from strategic planning to managing contracts.

Honor and Respect, The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address by Robert Hickey. This is the definitive reference on proper use of names and titles around the world.

Our Flag, a U.S. government publication available either online or for purchase at bookstore.gpo.gov. This pamphlet is an excellent, accurate reference for U.S. flag protocol with an interesting section about the history of our flag.

Protocol The Authoritative Source, 35thAnniversary Edition, by Mary Jane McCaffree, Pauline Innis, and Richard M. Sands. More detailed than most of us need on the average day, but if you are hosting government and military officials, or need to ensure flags are appropriately displayed, this book is essential.

Robert’s Rules in Action: How to Participate in Meetings with Confidence, by Randi Minetor. A great quick reference for the situations encountered in all but the most formal meetings.

Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11thedition, by Henry M. Robert III, Daniel H. Honemann, and Thomas J. Balch. This is the bible of parliamentary procedure for formal occasions like board of trustees’ meetings.

Special Events Planning for Success, 3rdedition, by April L. Harris. A how-to reference for creating effective events on campus including a discussion of why events are important for advancement.

Treating People Well, The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life, by Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard. A fun and inspiring read from two former White House social secretaries.

World Wise What to Know Before You Go, by Lanie Denslow. A primer for cross-cultural interactions, especially helpful for people who have never travelled overseas and useful to raise staff consciousness about cultural differences when welcoming delegations from other countries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Freshen Up, Attend A Conference

The annual meeting of the North American Association of Commencement Officers (NAACO) just wrapped up. It was three days of shared ideas, access to resources, and making connections with other people who do the same work. We heard from subject matter experts, swapped ideas, told war stories, learned about best-practices, and participated in provocative, motivating sessions designed to dislodge us from our ruts and push us to rethink business as usual. For people who work in the niche world of academic ceremonies, rubbing shoulders with others who do the same and listening to authoritative presenters can be a font of useful how-to information and a confidence-building validation of our own practices. We left feeling refreshed, heads swimming with ideas and phones filled with new contact information. We also made connections with quality vendors who are themselves subject matter experts, and who offer tools that can make our jobs easier.

I believe that all employees should attend at least one annual professional meeting. Nothing grows committed, creative, motivated, and effective employees more quickly than signaling that you respect them enough to invest in their continuing education by sending them to a conference. Attending a conference is not only mentally rejuvenating, it is the most efficient and cost-effective way to update employees about the latest thinking in their specialty areas. Without this infusion of new information and ideas you and your staff are simply talking to each other in a stale echo chamber of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” By staying home, you miss developing a network of colleagues with whom you can consult to solve problems, or whom you can call to celebrate success. Contact with professionals from other schools keeps us fresh through the cross-fertilization that can only come from listening to others who work in our field. Attending also keeps us abreast of learning about new tools and technologies that help us all do a better job for our schools. Being an active member of professional organizations has added a dimension of quality and satisfaction to my professional journey that cannot be overstated.

Here are three organizations that have been enormously helpful to me and that have served me well as vibrant, reliable resources for quality continuing professional development and have led to a network of colleagues who have become personal friends:

Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).This international organization offers a year-round calendar of conferences, plus webinars and publications for people who work in all aspects of advancement. Of particular note is their selection of specialized summer “institutes” that provide excellent foundation training for newcomers designed to help get employees up-to-speed quickly by immersing them in higher education how-to and best practices. As careers develop, CASE has excellent programming for people at all levels and offers opportunities for meaningful volunteer and board involvement. Case.org 

North American Association of Commencement Officers (NAACO). This group is tailored for people who manage commencement and other academic ceremonies for U.S. and Canadian schools. It offers a wealth of specialized best practice information for commencement planners, provost’s staffs, registrars, and special events planners. The group hosts an annual conference and regional meetings throughout the year. Naaco.org

Protocol and Diplomacy International-Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA). Traditionally, most PDI-POA members came from military or diplomatic backgrounds but in the past eight years, academic event planners have been the fastest growing segment of this organization’s membership. Collegiate event planners have been welcomed into the fold because we often host people and occasions that demand observance of protocol. It is necessary that we understand customs and expectations for everyone from government officials, military officers, famous authors, scientists, artists, celebrities, and international visitors and imperative that we understand their customs and expectations. Because the group’s members hail from all over the globe and include leading experts and authors on all aspects of protocol, PDI-POA is an excellent resource. PDI-POA hosts an annual forum and also offers regional workshops. Membership is particularly beneficial for people who plan president’s or chancellor’s events, who handle VIP and dignitary events, and special events planners who field a wide variety of ceremonies and occasions from every corner of campus. Protocolinternational.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.