Resources for Graduation Event Professionals

Best practices for music at a commencement ceremony

commencement ceremony musicWith extended family members of all ages in attendance at commencements, few moments are as awkward as when grandparents or young children are exposed to the musical glorification of violence, sex, or drug use.  As a commencement professional, it is absolutely your responsibility to ensure the music at your ceremony is appropriate.

To break the silence and entertain those arriving early, it is quite common for music to be played over a venue's PA system before the commencement ceremony.  However, if you have heard some of the songs popular with today's graduates, then you know first-hand that some of their lyrics are... well... questionable at best, and entirely inappropriate for these types of events.

Here are some items you should consider when thinking about the music to be played prior to your commencement ceremony:

  1. A approved playlist needs be compiled, and you need to be the final arbiter as to which songs make the cut.
  2. Keep in mind lyrics for most songs can easily be found online.
  3. If a small orchestra, piano player, or organist normally plays music beforehand, you should still consider compiling an approved playlist, in case those individuals are unable to perform.

If you have a soundboard operator or DJ handling the audio and music at your ceremony:

  • That individual can certainly help to suggest an appropriate playlist, but remember the first rule above.  As you are ultimately responsible for this event, you're the one who must have the final word regarding which songs will be played.
  • In your planning calendar, make sure to provide the soundboard operator or DJ with your approved playlist at least 1-2 weeks before the ceremony.  Ask to be informed if any approved songs are unavailable, and choose alternate selections if necessary;
  • Make it clear that any deviation from your approved playlist is unacceptable, and that if the end of the playlist should be reached prior to the start of the ceremony, then the playlist should be repeated from the beginning;
  • Be sure to touch base with the DJ or soundboard operator at the venue during your final ceremony preparations.  You would not be out-of-line to request to see the songs queued in the computerized music system, just to make sure they match your approved playlist.

Remember: this is not about whether your DJ or soundboard operator can be trusted to find occasion-appropriate music to play prior to your ceremony.  Instead, it is about being responsible and taking active control of one of the most noticeable - and potentially embarrassing - elements of your commencement ceremony.

Topics: Commencement Preparations