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Unsung heroes share their stories from behind the scenes at Kingston University's graduation ceremonies

Posted Monday 25 July 2016

Unsung heroes share their stories from behind the scenes at Kingston University's graduation ceremonies

Graduation ceremonies are a highpoint in the Kingston University calendar; they mark the culmination of students' hard work and endeavour, and are a chance for staff, family and friends to celebrate students' successes publically. The fifteen ceremonies being held at Kingston's Rose Theatre in July will see 3,475 Kingston University students cross the stage to formally receive their degrees. While the week-long celebrations put the spotlight firmly on the new graduates, there are a host of people working behind the scenes to ensure the events are a memorable occasion for everyone who attends.

From robers and photographers to caterers and ushers, more than 20 different teams are involved in organising the ceremonies and, for many, preparation started last summer. Sarah Wilden, from the University's graduation and events team, said every team has a crucial part to play in ensuring that the events run smoothly. "While one member of the team is busy counting chairs, another might be preparing thousands of tickets and certificates for collection," she said. "The smallest details make a difference. Before each ceremony, we even place Post-it notes on the seats in the very middle of the stage so that the academic staff can see where they need to stop after the procession."

Graduation assistants lending a helping hand at the July ceremoniesGraduation assistants lending a helping hand at the July ceremoniesIt's a long day for the staff supporting the events. Students start the day at County Hall, close to the University's main Penrhyn Road campus, where they don their graduation gowns with the help of robers Ede & Ravenscroft. Over the course of the week, the robing team will dress more than 3,500 students and staff in their formal gowns, hoods and caps. As well as talking to graduands about their experiences at Kingston University, Ede and Ravenscroft client manager Keith Pritchard said the team helps to put students at ease if they are feeling anxious about their ceremony. "We chat with the students so the robing process is a more personalised, calming experience," he said. "It can be stressful for them as, for many – especially undergraduates – it's something they haven't experienced before."

The robers are not the only people who have an early start on graduation day. The Rose Theatre ushers, who are all volunteers, arrive early to greet students and guests and direct them to their seats. Alongside them, current Kingston University students act as graduation ambassadors, making sure that all 3,475 students take the stage in the correct order.

For the students who take their seats in the Rose Theatre, graduation ceremonies are an opportunity to reflect on their achievements; a celebration that is shared by friends, family, staff members and guests. During graduation week, the Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellors shake up to 600 hands a day. More than 1,200 professional photographs are taken and around 1,000 celebratory glasses are clinked. For the local community, it's an opportunity to share in the celebrations, with many local businesses working with the University to offer discounts to graduands and their families.

Fran Hardy-Phillips, the University's graduations and events co-ordinator, said that those working behind the scenes did everything possible to make the day memorable. "Everyone really gets into the spirit of graduations and works tirelessly both in the run-up to the events and on the day," she said. "It's a really busy time for us, but even as the last ceremony comes to a close, we are already thinking about ways to make next year's events even better!"

Take a look at what has been happening at this year's graduation ceremonies on Storify.

Categories: Alumni, Staff, Students

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