by Annie Dubois

After an arduous year of virtual learning and remote commencement ceremonies, MSU accepted the challenge to hold Spring 2021 Commencement in person. With less time to plan and COVID guidelines to adhere to, planning Commencement was, as Associate Director of the Breslin Center Jeff Latinen put it, “our Mount Everest.”

For the first time in MSU’s history, all but two Spring Commencement ceremonies were held outdoors, with a socially distanced 6-foot gap required between all graduates. A limited number of two guests per graduate had to be ticketed, and no more than 500 attendees could congregate in a single location. As usual, the ceremonies were livestreamed for those not in attendance.

Heather Bailey, University Academic Events Coordinator, typically begins planning Commencement a year in advance, but with the uncertainties tied to COVID and holding in-person events, planning couldn’t begin until January 2021.

“[Planning commencement] required a lot of late nights and early mornings. It was the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in my 20 years of working in hospitality, but it was definitely worth it,” Bailey said. “We have such a good network of people, which made this process a lot easier.”

Planning 53 outdoor ceremonies over four different locations presented unique logistical challenges, such as planning for unpleasant weather and ensuring internet connection for livestreaming in the Breslin Center, Spartan Stadium, Erikson, and Auditorium parking lots. With the help of Creative Day TechnologiesInfrastructure Planning and Facilities, and MSU IT services, Bailey and Latinen were able to plan site layouts, set up staging, seating, and light fixtures, and install fiber cables and Wi-Fi for livestreaming.

“We ran pretty much 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. each night,” Latinen said. “The team and I were there at every single site and saw every single ceremony. I’ve done a national championship game for football and worked to prepare for a Superbowl, but I don’t think I’ve done anything like this. It was hectic for sure, but people were just happy to be there in-person.”

With the unpredictable component of weather and wind, Bailey and Latinen had to plan for the worst, resulting in the shipment of 35,000 waterproof ponchos. This planning came in handy during the first undergraduate ceremony on April 30, where it was 35 degrees and pouring rain.

Other weather events posed a more immediate risk, such as the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s ceremony on May 7, which was evacuated due to lightning. Thanks to the MSU Police Department and Auxiliary Enterprises, graduates and attendees were able to safely shelter in the Breslin Center for 30 minutes before returning to the parking lot and finishing the ceremony on schedule.

In addition to the ponchos, Bailey and Latinen ordered masks for all attendees and printed an information booklet for guests. Guests were seated in a section partitioned from graduates, with enough seating for each pair of guests to either sit together or separately according to their comfort.

With four undergraduate ceremonies held per day over the course of three days, setup and teardown for each of the four sites had to be handled swiftly and with special attention to sanitation. This task was carried out by volunteers across the university, primarily Residential and Hospitality Services, MSU Athletics, and Breslin Center employees, with each location led by an event manager. Taking down equipment across the four sites utilized for undergraduate Commencement resulted in volunteers finishing up at midnight.

The magnitude of planning 53 in-person Commencement ceremonies is a historical feat for event planning at MSU, and without the support of various units across campus, carrying out MSU’s first socially distanced outdoor commencement would not have been possible. Special thanks are extended to the following units and individuals who helped pull off this historical Spartan celebration:

BRESLIN CENTER: Jeff Latinen, Ryan Curtis, Jessica Carnacchi, Mark Dillon, Dallas Griffin, and many more.

COLLEGE OF MUSIC: Dean Forger, Michael Kroth, David Rayl, and Steve Boughton DECS: Santhosh Abraham IPF: Angie Zell, Mark Rokita, Brandon Baswell, Yun Cao, John Jonckheere, John Nurenberg, and their crews.

IT SERVICES: Rachel Rumsey, Steve Jowett, Aaron McCormick, Catherine Zhang, Drew Beach, Sharon Bennett, Greg Koerner, Josh Slivensky, James Terry, Sherief Abou Elseoud, Joe Besko, Jennifer Weston, and many more.

MSU ATHLETICS: Many individuals assisted prior to the ceremonies and many individuals volunteered to work the ceremonies.

MSU POLICE: Jon Martin, Dave Oslund and Steve Beard

REGISTRAR'S OFFICE: Jamie Densmore, Kristin Schuette, Traci Gulick and all those that answered the countless calls and emails about the ticketing process.

REHS/RHS: Natisha Foster and Kat Cooper

PRESIDENT’S OFFICE: Chelsea Kastl

PROVOST’S OFFICE: April Meersdom and Julie Harrison

PURCHASING: Melinda Markham-Phillips and Matt Gosselin

SPARTAN SPIRIT SHOP: Molly Chrome and Stephene Benkert

UCOMMS: Tony Frewen, Melody Kindraka, Aimee Brasseur, Nicole Dowswell, Dan Olsen, Mark Fellows, Kevin Epling, and many others.

WKAR: David Collins, Brant Wells, Jody Knol, Jamie Paisley and Scott Pohl