Exit, stage right: Prof. Brian Sutton takes final bow as commencement announcer

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Video Recording (Sutton is recognized at 01:04:37.)

When the final graduate of the Class of 2017 made the traditional walk across the commencement stage Saturday, May 13, ended longheld UW-Green Bay tradition: Prof. Brian Sutton completed a 17-year stretch as the person who eloquently, and enthusiastically announced every graduate’s name.

Sutton, whose full-time job is associate professor, Humanistic Studies, and director of English Composition and the Writing Center, first picked up the microphone for commencement in 2000 when his predecessor asked if he was interested. More than 15,000 graduates later, he is ready to relinquish the mic. and the head of the classroom. He will also retire from the University after a near-25-year career.

In recognition, UW-Green Bay Chancellor Miller presented Sutton with a crystal microphone.

Chancellor Miller presenting Brian Sutton with a crystal mic

Chancellor Miller presenting Brian Sutton with a crystal mic

“For the most part, it’s a pretty machine-like routine,” he reflected quietly. “You take the card from the students, read their name aloud, drop it in a box next to you and look up for the next graduate.

“The fun of it over the years,” he smiled, “has been looking up to see the face of a student you’ve known for several years or who has become a friend of yours.”

As routine as it might be, Sutton is diligent about pronouncing the names correctly before he steps on stage. He receives a list of graduates’ names from Jan Snyder, associate to the Provost, who leads the commencement-day efforts. The list of names includes student-provided pronunciation hints adjacent to the challenging ones. If he is still not confident in the pronunciation, he seeks clarification.

Once he is comfortable that he has it right, Sutton adds some drama to the announcement process, creating the “pizzazz” for which he’s known on these occasions.

Brian Sutton with his crystal mic

Brian Sutton with his crystal mic

“This is an important event for the students and for their families,” he said, “so I try to sound a little dramatic when I announce them.” It helps that Sutton has a background in theater, having performed in school and community productions, and written a play that was performed on 42nd Street in New York and, later, on the UW-Green Bay campus.

Has he ever mispronounced a name? “I’m sure of it,” he acknowledged. “If we have, say, a thousand students graduating, I might mispronounce a hundred of them. One of the first pieces of advice I got from my predecessor, Mike Murphy, was not to go back and correct myself on a pronunciation. If you just keep going, only the graduate, the family and a few others will know. If you correct it, everyone will know the difference. It’s hard not to, though, and sometimes I do it even before I’ve thought about it.”

Sutton has some advice for his yet-to-be selected successor: Make it interesting and don’t worry too much about mistakes.

“You have to keep it moving to get through about a thousand names each spring,” he said. “I think it’s important to make it interesting for yourself and for your audience, too.”

That’s a wrap.

Story by freelance writer Jim Streed