By Jennifer Krisch
Wheelchairs delivered. Check.
Programs in service entrance. Check.
Green folders on tables, left and right of stage. Check.
Diabetic kits placed. Check.
The list goes on and on, filling enough pages to pack a three-ring binder nearly three inches thick. This is the commencement bible -- what it takes to prepare, pull off and break down Ohio University graduation ceremonies.
Preparations for the following year's ceremonies start before the current ones end, and for the past 15 years, this enormous responsibility has rested primarily with a student.
This year, that student was senior Paula Bartlett, an organizational communications major who is using the opportunity as her senior thesis project. Her special projects coordinator's position comes with a paid internship.
"Paula is just so phenomenal," said Gretchen Stephens, director of university events and Bartlett's direct supervisor. "She is responsible for anything and everything -- contacting guest services; coordinating facility management; working with 200 volunteers, student staff and fellow interns; securing all kinds of amenities. There's so much."
Bartlett said the workload of the last year has been immense, but staying focused on the end result helped her keep it in perspective.
"When it's over, I'll feel like I'll be able to breathe again," she said. "There have definitely been times this year when it seemed like there was too much on my plate. I'm a list maker, and sometimes the lists were two pages long. But I just take a deep breath and start tackling it."
She realizes there are advantages to having a job of this magnitude on her resume.
"The best part of this is getting the experience of planning such a large event," she said. "With commencement there is an expectation, from the university and the students. It's commencement -- it has a history and it's supposed to be memorable, and I want to make sure I uphold that."
And now, behind the scenes with Paula Bartlett ...
Thursday, June 12:
9:50 a.m. It's one day before graduate commencement and Bartlett, clipboard in hand, is checking off the morning's chores and keeping an eye on center stage in the Convocation Center. President Roderick J. McDavis, faculty and staff are practicing their roles. This is the first of many dress rehearsals today. Luckily, Bartlett had no exams this week -- not that the magna cum laude graduate couldn't have pulled that off as well.
10:24 a.m. As McDavis and other members of the platform party practice portions of their speeches, Bartlett -- trailed by six interns, each talking to her at the same time -- politely dishes out orders.
"We need a coat rack taken to the Rohr Room for the platform party," she tells one.
"Make sure we have the keys for the media room," she tells another.
10:40 a.m. Bartlett coordinates the delivery of faculty regalia.
10:45 a.m. Rehearsal now over, Bartlett and the interns take the stage, replacing the name cards on seats with new ones. The next dress rehearsal is for the morning undergraduate commencement, and a different platform party will take the stage.
10:48 a.m. Another intern arrives to tell Bartlett that the wheelchairs -- 32 in all -- have been delivered. A fleet of volunteers will work each day, manning the chairs in handicapped parking lots to assist patrons from their vehicles to their seats in the Convo.
11:15 a.m. While the second rehearsal gets under way on stage, Bartlett and her interns head for the women's volleyball locker room, headquarters for this event. As they grab computers and cell phones, the room is abuzz with activity. Schedules and seating arrangements are updated, volunteer e-mails are answered, the paper cutter is retrieved and Bartlett turns to the first crisis: The singer has not confirmed.
Grabbing her phone and diving into her backup plan, Bartlett calls another singer and heads out the door for a last-minute run to Staples. Her day is only beginning and already she knows it will probably be dark before she heads home tonight.
Friday, June 13:
7 a.m. Bartlett, the interns and staff have been busy placing programs on all the graduates' chairs, opening office doors, staging diplomas, checking microphones, hanging banners and handling about 20 other details before the doors open.
Bartlett's head is clamped by two headsets, microphones circling her face. She moves in fits and starts, talking with someone beside her, then straightening and moving away when she is called on the radio. Signaling she is clear to talk, Bartlett answers, "Go for Paula," which she has probably said 40 times already this morning. It has become her mantra.
8:20 a.m. Just a little over an hour before the ceremony opens, Bartlett races through the halls at a breakneck pace. "Check the Rohr Room. Maybe it got delivered with the platform party's," she says. She is tracking down regalia for University Photographer Rick Fatica, who is accepting his master's degree diploma today. Like Bartlett, he will work until his college is called and then quickly change roles to that of graduate.
Leaving the regalia mystery to an intern to solve, she turns her attention to the next crisis. "Go for Paula."
8:22 a.m. Quickly changing directions, Bartlett announces no coffee cake has been delivered to the University Wind Ensemble ready room. "We need to ask Catering. That should have been in there," she squawks into her radio.
8:25 a.m. Back out on the main floor, Bartlett watches as the color guard runs through posting of the flags one last time. Her radios provided a constant buzz of conversation between interns and events staff posted throughout the building.
8:32 a.m. Again racing the corridors, Bartlett calls for assistance. Engineering is missing 10 orange hoods, and they are the second college to march. "Check the volleyball room," she says. "I think they're in the back on the table."
8:33 a.m. Radio checks. Neither Bartlett nor Stephens can reach some staff members via their radios. Meeting in portal one, they remove wires, battery packs and headsets and then switch units, radioing anyone who can hear them the changes.
8:40 a.m. Stephens opens the Convocation Center doors and the public starts to file in as the wind ensemble begins to play. Bartlett takes to the main floor, scanning the upper levels. Radioing all interns, she asks if all the ushers are in place.
8:50 a.m. The interpreter arrives. Bartlett shows her to her position on the stage, facing a section of the stands she has designated for hearing-impaired guests. The interpreter needs a stand to hold her script during the ceremony. Bartlett jumps onto the radio again.
8:53 a.m. She calls for the delivery of extra robes to all portals. Should anyone need to take the floor during the ceremony, graduation robes must be worn.
9:10 a.m. Just 30 minutes before the processional is scheduled to begin, marshal coordinator Anna Rankin finds Bartlett. "We are missing eight marshals," she announces. (The marshals precede individual colleges, carrying each college's flag.) Bartlett calls on her radio for marshals to report to their designated ready room as she races in that direction herself.
9:22 a.m. The last of the missing marshals has been found and all are now running to meet their respective colleges, already lining up for the processional.
9:41 a.m. Faculty and graduates in place, the house lights go down and the processional begins.
With the exception of a renegade photographer who had to be escorted from the floor, the ceremony goes smoothly. Before the Convo is empty, Stephens and Bartlett gather the interns and events staff to review the morning and start preparations for tomorrow, when they will have to do this twice.
Saturday, June 14:
9:30 a.m. Through portal one, faculty and graduates from the Scripps College of Communication begin marching to take their seats on the Convo floor. This is her college, and Bartlett congratulates and hugs many of those filing past her.
Rather than sit with her classmates, Bartlett flies around the Convo sporting not ceremonial robes but headsets, battery packs, a cell phone and her ever-present clipboard. This is her day to graduate, but she is working, astounding many of her classmates, all of whom comment on it.
9:38 a.m. In mid-hug, Bartlett snaps to attention, throwing up a hand, palm out -- hold on. "Go for Paula," she says. "Go to the volleyball room, get two of the extra robes and take them to portal three," she says.
"Go for Paula." The second radio interrupts with news that one of the interns can't be reached on her headset. "I'm on my way."
Prepared for a rowdier crowd, she has stationed one intern, dressed in robes, at each portal. It is their job to run into the undergraduate crowd and retrieve rogue beach balls or talk students down from their chairs. This was her job last year.
Fortunately, none of these things happen. This morning's graduates, though excited and sometimes loud, are well-behaved and cooperative.
11:20 a.m. With a fleeting glimmer of sadness, Bartlett removes her headsets and hands them to rising senior Jenna Miller, next year's special projects coordinator, who will direct the afternoon ceremony.
Finally donning her cap, gown and honor cords, Bartlett turns and steps into place as the last student in the line of Scripps College graduates.
11:31 a.m. "Paula M. Bartlett," the announcer calls. Smiling, and for the first time looking like a student, she crosses the stage, participating in the ceremony that she spent a year orchestrating.
Her job here is done.