20 minutes with Sharon Hawkins, UofL apparel administrator
Commencement wouldn’t be the same without academic regalia. Students don their caps and gowns and march in by school and degree. To see the pomp and circumstance, one would never imagine that just a few short days beforehand, those caps and gowns were packed in boxes stacked around the Red Barn. UofL Today talked to Sharon Hawkins, UofL apparel administrator, about what it takes to sort and distribute 2,400 caps and gowns in two and a half days’ time.
What is your job at UofL? I'm sure ordering and distributing caps and gowns is only part of it.
I’m a program manager in the Office of Enrollment Management. There are two things that I do.
Residency: I adjudicate student residency appeals for admission and tuition purposes for the university as the residency appeals officer. Residency is an area that I touch every work day of every week. I maintain and update the residency website, discuss the appeal process and the state residency regulation with parents, students and university employees.
Commencement: I co-implement the commencement ceremony in May and December under Joe Dablow’s direction and with help from Janet Iler, administrative assistant.
As the apparel administrator for the university I oversee the ordering, distribution and payment for university events that require academic apparel. Usually that’s two commencements and the president’s State of the University address. I assist in setting up the facility for the ceremony, maintain and update the commencement website, oversee the commencement equipment and work with the 12 school/college liaisons regarding their convocations. We generally have the summer months free of commencement duties.
How many years have you been ordering and distributing caps and gowns?
Since March 2003.
Have the numbers changed during that time?
There’s been a steady increase.
May 2004: 1,582 student cap and gown orders.
May 2010: 1,936 student cap and gown orders plus 351 faculty orders and 97 caps and gowns for platform party, golden alums and medical relatives/marshals.
Is distribution hectic?
Very! Most students are pretty stressed by this date. They want to just run in, grab their cap and gown and go. We try to make it as easy and quick as possible.
It’s a large number of people, students and faculty, coming to the Red Barn over a short period of two and a half days, so yes, it’s very hectic, but it’s also fun.
What types of issues do you have to deal with?
By the time distribution is well underway, I’m either at the Kentucky Exposition Center or Kentucky International Convention Center facility for the set-up before the ceremony. Janet Iler and our Herff Jones vendor manage the apparel distribution.
Our vendor brings a limited number of extra apparel for late faculty and students. He handles the wrong size/wrong color tassel issues and the fitting of late orders. Janet takes care of student issues that need to be handled by university staff. She answers hundreds of questions about rehearsal and the ceremony.
If you can think of an issue, we’ve heard it:
‘I don’t know why I put down the wrong height or weight’
‘I didn’t place an order because I didn’t know I was graduating’
‘I think I ordered under the wrong degree so my tassel is not the right color’
‘I ordered under the wrong School/College. Does that matter?’
Usually the problems are not really problems. Most things are pretty simple and can be fixed -- and that’s what we aim to do, fix the problem for the student. If ever there is a time that it is ‘all about me,’ this is it. It really is all about them and we can’t forget that.
How do you prepare for everything?
The couple of days before distribution opens are the busiest! Can you imagine approximately 2,400 caps and gowns in many, many, many boxes that must be sorted? Faculty divided by campus? Late faculty orders found and sorted by campus? All boxes picked up and moved time and time again to tables by degree? Then by last name? Insert student master hoods into the cap and gown packages by degree color? Is that pink or salmon? Arrange Belknap faculty by degree, then by name? Insert faculty hoods into their packages? Try to keep folks from coming in so we can get our job done? Two of us and maybe a couple of students, if we’re lucky? It is exhausting. But once the doors open, we’re ready to help the students and of course, the faculty.
The checklist. When I began working in this office, the director was Ray Stines. He coordinated everything associated with commencement. He created a multi-page checklist. Every single task, regardless of how large or how small, was a line item on the list. We usually began three months before the ceremony. We’d review it every two weeks, then every week, then every day leading up to the ceremony. I still use it, and I am convinced that some tasks would fall through the cracks if we did otherwise. Commencement is the single largest event hosted by the university and it’s the reason we’re all here - to see the student progress to graduation. Mr. Stines’ diligent work was always for the benefit of the student, and I haven’t forgotten that message.