Imperial College London

The unsung heroes supporting Commemoration Day


Commemoration Day 2017

Students, staff and guests gather at Commemoration Day 2017

Imperial’s undergraduate graduation ceremony, Commemoration Day, is one of the biggest and most anticipated events in the College’s calendar.

On Wednesday 17 October the families, friends and loved ones of Imperial graduands will gather at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the accomplishments of students who have completed their undergraduate degrees. 

Students spend years working hard for their degrees – at the same time, a large number of Imperial staff are working months in advance and away from the spotlight to prepare for the big day. 

Coordinated by the Graduation Team, part of the Institutional Events Team, the work on Commemoration Day begins after the Postgraduate Ceremonies in May. The team coordinates every single aspect of Graduation, from student invitations and liaison to organising catering and recruiting volunteers. They oversee this complex operation and brings together the diverse teams required to make the day memorable for graduands. 

We take a look at some of the unsung heroes working behind-the-scenes to make Commemoration Day a success. 

Thomas Slugocki: one stop shop

Thomas SlugockiThomas, Data and Project Officer, is a key member of the Graduation team that oversees Commemoration Day from start to finish. Thomas and the team play a huge part in giving each student an impressive graduation ceremony. 

“Getting students to Graduation is a complex process,” he says. “We’re a one-stop shop and our priority is to make sure the day goes as smoothly as possible.” Once the graduands’ awards have been conferred, it is Thomas’ role to invite students to register for Commemoration Day, which involves preparing all the graduand data, any relevant communications and organising reminder emails and phone calls for students who may leave it too late.

"I also oversee the ticketing process. Many would be surprised to know that we manually put graduands’ ceremony and department reception tickets in their envelopes. It can take us up to two weeks to put the envelopes together for each student, after which we sort them alphabetically for collection – this is done for around 2,700 undergraduates, so it is a lot of work!”

On the ground, Thomas helps oversee ‘Door 6’ at the Royal Albert Hall. “Door 6 is an information desk where colleagues, volunteers, and I answer queries and help direct graduands, guests and staff.” Thomas explains. “We invest a lot of time in ensuring that everything is accurate, as a small omission can have a real impact on a graduand’s day.” 

Dr Lorraine Craig: follow the reader

Dr Lorraine CraigDr Lorraine Craig, Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching, is responsible for reading the names of some of the graduands in the Faculty of Engineering as they collect their degree certificates.

She spends at least two weekends rehearsing names and writes them out phonetically to get the pronunciation right on the day. One year, Dr Craig read out 390 names. 

“I spell the names out phonetically because our students come from many diverse backgrounds - it takes me quite a few hours,” she explains. “I practice the list of names many, many times before the actual event. I think my strong Northern Irish accent may confuse some students on the day!

“It’s important that I get it right because family members and loved ones sit in anticipation as they wait for a student’s name to be read out,” adds Dr Craig. “For me it is extra special to attend Commemoration Day as I get to see my former students graduate. Some may have faced struggles during their time at Imperial, whether that be personal or academic. It is so special to see them move on to the next phase of their lives.”

The graphic above conveys that at Commemoration Day 2017, 12,660 glasses of champagne were poured; 2,560 graduands received their degree; 11,500 graduation programmes were printed; 4,800 hands were shaken; 39,300 canapés were prepared.

Kieron Creagh: first (and last) impressions count

Kieron CreaghKieron Creagh, Education Strategy Officer, has volunteered at Commemoration Day for the last four years. After graduating from Imperial in 2013, Kieron was elected as an Officer Trustee for the Imperial College Union and led a procession during the 2014 Postgraduate Ceremony. 

“I use my experience at Imperial to support the Graduation team, taking on the role of Stage Manager, which involves leading a small team of volunteers to set up the stage,” explains Kieron. “We check that seats and labels match the stage plan and place water bottles and programmes by each chair. Additionally, I direct the student procession marshals so they know what to do and where to go.

“To prepare for Commemoration Day, I make sure I’ve read and understood the plans for each ceremony. On the day itself, it helps to stay relaxed so that students and their guests have the best day possible.”

Kieron’s passion for Imperial is the reason he consistently helps out on Commemoration Day. “It is one of the College’s most important events, the last impression we give our graduates and the first impression we give many of their families, friends and loved ones.” 

Stephen Smith: the art of bell ringing

Stephen SmithStephen Smith, Professor of Bioresource Systems in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is a bell ringer at the Queen’s Tower. He learned to ring when he was at primary school, and has been a member of the band that rings the bells in the Queen’s Tower for 10 years. 

“I am the only staff member from College who rings the bells in the Queen’s Tower on Commemoration Day,” explains Stephen. “Other members of the band are local ringers from the London area and also from further afield. The main method we ring on Commemoration Day and at other times is called ‘Stedman Caters’, where nine bells are changing and the heaviest tenth bell is the cover.” 

Stephen joins the team to commence ringing at 1pm. “There are 239 steps to the ringing chamber, and as the Queen’s Tower is so tall, we can feel the tower sway when we begin to ring the bells. Of course, the bells are very loud and due to the height and swaying of the tower, we physically work really hard, and good bell-handling skills and control are a necessity.” 

He adds: “The bells have a reputation for being quite difficult, but when the ringing is good, it is a very rewarding experience.” Stephen and the other members of the band will ring the bells for an hour on Commemoration Day, with each individual piece of ringing, called a ‘touch’ lasting for about 15 minutes. 

“The bells in the Queen’s Tower are remarkable. The fact that the College has 10 bells ringing to celebrate the success of its students on their graduation speaks volumes about how proud we are,” he added. “It’s a really dramatic and special way of celebrating a College event, and shows the entire South Kensington community that our students are celebrating.” 

Susi Underwood: choir coordinator

Susi Underwood performs in the choir Susi, Postgraduate Officer Manager in the Department of Chemical Engineering, has been volunteering on Commemoration Day for eight years. She helps to coordinate the choir and supports those graduands who sing at their own graduation ceremony.

Susi ensures that the choir graduands know exactly when to move to their positions. “Before I took on this role, the choir graduands were given very limited guidance. As they all know me well, I am able to direct them,” she says. “I think I do my job well because I’m good at directing people! It’s really important that staff and students who form the choir know where they need to be and when. It’s particularly important for the students graduating from choir.”

Outside of her day job, Susi sings in the London Philharmonic Choir and has performed in the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. On Commemoration Day, this gives her an advantage. “I know the Royal Albert Hall’s backstage area very well and can navigate my way around – it’s a rare skill to have as people get very lost on the day.” 

Campus Services: canapés at the ready!

Student celebrates Graduation at receptionThe Internal Events team in Campus Services help to arrange the receptions following the main graduation ceremony and ensure that caterers are provided with the right numbers for canapés and prosecco.

The team oversee room bookings, working closely with the furniture and cleaning teams so that rooms on the South Kensington Campus are presentable. The rooms will normally be cleaned four times a day.

“We have a vital role in securing reception spaces on Campus,” says Anna Lusby, Internal Events Manager. “We liaise with departments across the College months in advance to book suitable spaces for receptions, factoring in time for setup, which includes furniture, cleaning, draping and floristry, as well as breakdown.”

Shelley Oman, Senior Internal Events Coordinator, adds: “Along with the Operations team, we help put the finishing touches together, from checking in on the florist to ensuring that any agency staff recruited to help out on the day are fully briefed and understand the meaning of graduation.”

Thomas Angus and Martin Sayers: say ‘cheese!’

Thomas AngusHaving photographed twelve graduation ceremonies over the course of his career at Imperial, Thomas Angus, College Photographer and Image Manager, knows how to get the perfect shot. “Stay quiet, don’t get in anyone’s way, be respectful of the occasion and have a smile on your face,” he explains. 

Thomas coordinates the photos at the main graduation ceremony and manages freelance photographers – before the ceremony, he will brief them on image requirements. “One of the ways I prepare to photograph at a grand venue like the Royal Albert Hall is to communicate the correct colour temperature, exposure and apertures - along with our photography guidelines - to our freelancers in advance.” 

During the day, Thomas’ role is also very physical as he navigates the many storeys of the Royal Albert Hall to capture the right moment. “I really enjoy having the freedom to roam such a prestigious venue on such a grand day,” he says. 

Student proposing to his girlfriend on Commemoration dayFrom editorial shots to students unleashing their fun side, Thomas collates a range of pictures on Commemoration Day. “I always enjoy capturing those moments where students look really happy and proud – that’s the highlight, as it’s an infectious emotion.” One of the more memorable photos he has taken on graduation was when he successfully tracked down a graduand who proposed to his girlfriend.  

On the video side Martin Sayers, Digital Media Producer, arrives at 5am. He has been capturing Imperial's graduation ceremonies for 16 years – and with six ceremonies each year at the two events, Martin has filmed more than 90 in all. 

“My main priorities are to direct the camera operators and the vision mixer for the screen on the main stage, as well as the live stream on YouTube. Each ceremony is around two hours long, which is six hours of live TV – it is no mean feat,” says Martin. 

Martin Sayers“I am essentially watching three different live camera feeds and deciding which camera will go live next onto the main screen and livestream. This means calling the shots usually before they happen, and on the fly. At the same time, I’ll be speaking to an engineer to ensure everything goes smoothly. Sometimes, I will have four conversations going on in my head all at once!” 

“Over the 27 years I have worked at Imperial, I have gained many friends and really enjoy watching them graduate and of course, being backstage at the Royal Albert Hall is amazing.”

The graphic above conveys that at Commemoration Day 2017, there were 9,160 attendees; 144 volunteers; 50 countries were represented; 640 photos were taken; 27 receptions were held and many unsung heroes made the day a success.

Alumni Relations team: building lifelong connections

Students hold up 'We are Imperial Alumni' signJenn Rowater, Alumni Marketing and Communications Officer, sets up at 6.00am alongside her colleagues in the Alumni Relations team. They are responsible for providing graduands with information about what to expect after graduation, staying connected to the College and how to access the exclusive benefits and services they are entitled to as Imperial alumni.

She explains: “We have a stall at ticket collection located in the Royal Geographical Society, and speak with graduands about what it means to become an Imperial alumnus. Our priority is to make sure that they feel welcomed into the Imperial alumni community, are able to transition from students to alumni and that they understand how to make the most of their lifelong connection to the College.”

“As people around the world tweet congratulatory words and share their selfies, there is a real sense of the Imperial community coming together.” Jenn Rowater Alumni Marketing and Communications Officer

One of the biggest challenges for the team is to handle the large volume of data collected from graduands after Commemoration Day. In the last quarter, they processed 3,974 graduation data forms, which detail how graduands would like to stay in touch as Imperial alumni.

Jenn and her team also oversee the live feed and displays around campus. “We work with the social media team and ensure that any incoming tweets appear clearly on screens across the Royal Albert Hall – this is a live feed shown to students and their guests as they get seated,” she says. “As people around the world tweet congratulatory words and share their selfies, there is a real sense of the Imperial community coming together.” 


Martha Salhotra

Martha Salhotra
Communications Division

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