On Dec. 15, 2018, just minutes before UW-Green Bay seniors begin their formal processional into the Weidner Center for their graduation ceremony, and following three months of planning and preparation, Commencement Coordinator Jan Snyder will address the graduates one final time:
“When it is time to process, don’t forget your name card! Follow your marshals’ lead, and stay in line. When it’s your turn, hand your name card to the announcer, receive your diploma from the Chancellor and cross the stage a UW-Green Bay graduate!”
The graduates will stand. Then the processional music will begin, and Snyder will exhale and smile.
She began working commencement in Spring of 2000. With one ceremony each semester (and two ceremonies one spring when weather didn’t cooperate with a planned outdoor ceremony) the Dec. 15, 2018 ceremony will be Snyder’s 37th ceremony, and her last.
She will retire from the University on February 1, 2019 after 32 years at UW-Green Bay — 18 with “official title as Commencement Coordinator.”
“Jan’s contribution to the University is remarkable,” said Associate Provost Clif Ganyard. “Having overseen Commencement for the last 18 years, she has assisted nearly 17,000 students to realize their goals and cross the stage to be awarded a degree. That’s nearly half of all of the students who have graduated from the University. Jan has helped to shape our commencement ceremonies into what they are, arguably the most important event in a student’s college career. That’s quite a legacy.”
“We are all very happy for Jan, that she will be able to relax and enjoy herself in retirement,” Ganyard said. “But, we will miss her dearly.”
Snyder was asked to reflect on her experiences, including funniest moments, “goosebump” moments, tender moments and most harried moments, and they are well worth the read:
Q: What makes the day special?
A: Seeing the joy and pride written all over the faces of the graduates and their family members and friends. I consider it a great honor to be a part of that.
Q: What don’t people realize about what it takes to pull off an event?
A: The amount of time required to make sure every grad is in exactly the right place from the time they are seated in the robing room through the entire ceremony. In addition to maintaining a lot of spreadsheets sorted in multiple ways, I also keep a lot of names and numbers in my head.
Q: When do you start preparing?
A: Usually three months ahead of the ceremony, unless there are unique printing or supply orders that need to be started sooner.
Q: What was your funniest moment?
A: At one spring ceremony, I went to see if the grads were starting to leave Dick Bennett Gym at the Kress Center and gave Pam Gilson a thumbs up to indicate they were. This meant it would be another three or four minutes before they arrived in the arena, but Music Director Kevin Collins thought I was signaling him and the band began playing “Pomp and Circumstance”…several times… before the to-be grads finally processed into the Kress. We have fine-tuned our signals since then.
Q: How about your most endearing moment?
A: Watching Jennifer Ulrich ’13 (Psychology), a mostly wheelchair-assisted grad in Spring 2013, walk with her assist dog across the stage to receive her diploma. Ulrich worked so hard to get to the point that she could do this. Alumna Jane Birr ‘85 ’90 (Human Adaptability and Masters in Administrative Science) coached her, and it was a humbling and heartwarming experience to assist with the arrangements and then watch it actually come to pass. I will never forget that moment.
Q: Most challenging?
A: For one of our December ceremonies, there was a mix-up of dates and Commencement was booked the same weekend as the Green Bay Symphony/Dudley Birder Christmas concert. We had to complete what is normally a three-day setup in three hours! from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday night, and of course be back at 8 a.m. Saturday to be ready for graduates, family members and events staff to arrive!
Q: What was the most unexpected moment?
A: At one December commencement a Theatre grad walked on stage wearing a Darth Vader hood. Some things you just can’t plan for!
Q: Any other Jan Snyder most memorable moments?
A. As a military mom, I’ve had the pleasure on at least two occasions to arrange for tickets for military family members who wanted to surprise their graduates (of course you know that pulled my heartstrings).
A: In Spring 2008, the Social Work students asked for a vase so they could all put a rose in it after receiving their diploma, in memory of faculty member Anne Kok, whose life was taken suddenly in a traffic accident. That was pretty special.
A: I earned a few extra gray hairs at one of the spring outdoor ceremonies. It rained two days before, so I watched several young ladies wearing heels sink into the soft ground. Also, Operations surprised us with the set up by making a large aisle-type break in the chair rows, which made for some very interesting moves by the student marshals who didn’t quite know where to lead the next row of grads.
A: I once had a grad ask if her two-year old could participate in the ceremony with her. I was too dumbfounded to answer right away.
A: In the early years, I worked one night before the ceremony until midnight. A grad called at 11:30 p.m. and I picked up the call. I actually think he expected it because he didn’t sound a bit surprised (go figure).
Q: What will you miss the most?
A. I am a nut for organization and details, and even though it’s sometimes a bit overwhelming, it’s also very gratifying to see it all come together. Once the ceremony starts, my heart swells with pride for our grads and this place called UW-Green Bay. I will miss everything about commencement, but most of all the people.
And the people will miss Jan Snyder.
Story by Sue Bodilly, photos by Dan Moore