In Part 2 of our series, we will look at some steps you can take to discourage spectator outbursts at commencement, both before and during your ceremony.
Remember our two takeaways from Part 1 of this series:
- if yelling or cheering for one graduate carries over to significantly interfere with the individual recognition of the next graduate in line, then a disservice has been done to that second graduate and her family;
- your approach to handling spectator outbursts at commencement needs to take your ceremony's unique circumstances into consideration.
So as a commencement coordinator, what steps can you take to discourage spectator outburst before they happen?
Play background music.
Although this may seem counterintuitive, perhaps the single most effective tool for mitigating spectator disruptions at commencement is to play instrumental music in the background while graduates are recognized on stage.
One reason why yelling is so disruptive is because it interrupts the rhythmic, relatively quiet nature of graduate recognition. However, instrumental background music — played at moderate volume but not so loud as to overpower the reader — reduces the rhythmic nature and eliminates the silence between names. The result is that the "shock value" of a spectator outburst is significantly decreased, which removes much of the incentive to cause a commotion in the first place.
Additionally, well-selected background music provides a calming effect for all commencement spectators, who are patiently sitting through a long period of graduate recognition in order to see their loved one cross the stage for just a few short seconds.
With respect to the type of instrumental music, instrumental versions of contemporary songs played by string quartets have been very well received lately. Different ceremonies have different musical needs, of course. Be sure to check out our post on best practices for music at commencement.
Lower the lights slightly.
If your commencement venue is indoors, lighting effects may help calm the audience. For example, dimming the lights over the spectator areas, essentially having the audience sit in darker light, can have a relaxing effect. Likewise, if you have theater lighting at your disposal, gentle shades of the color blue can have similar effects. Be sure to consult with the venue's management when considering a lighting change, as spectator safety may be an issue.
Post notices online and in the commencement program.
It is increasingly common for schools and universities to include a "Ceremony Decorum" or "Ceremony Etiquette" section not only on web pages devoted to the institution's ceremonies, but also printed in the commencement program. These sections do not require a lot of space, but should be given a prominent location. Most contain bullet points regarding the silencing of cell phones, standing while the procession is entering, etc.
Verbally remind spectators to remain silent before graduates cross the stage.
It helps to verbally reinforce this message immediately prior to graduates crossing the stage. The message needs to be genuine and heartfelt, and not feel as though it's being read from a script. For example:
"If I could just speak to the friends and family in our audience for just a moment..."
"You are here today to honor someone you truly love. I would ask that you take a second to look around the coliseum. Everyone else that you see is also here to honor someone they love just as much."
"You would be upset, and rightfully so, if someone prevented you from enjoying this special moment with your graduate. So I am asking you to please understand that if you if you choose to yell, or make noise, or otherwise cause a commotion when your graduate crosses the stage, then that is exactly what you'll be doing to someone else. You will be impairing another family from hearing their graduate's name, and depriving them of this once-in-a-lifetime moment from that family."
"To do so would not just be inconsiderate. It would be disrespectful, juvenile, and classless. That is not what this school is about."
"So on behalf of every student on the ceremony floor, I am asking you, please, remain silent until the names of all graduates have been called. Then together we will applaud and recognize their tremendous accomplishments. Thank you."
This type of message should ideally be delivered by someone the spectators admire, such as a beloved coach.
Names should be announced with dignity and confidence, not excitement.
The manner with which the reader(s) announce graduate names also plays a subtle role here. The reader does not need to sound like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but he/she sound not like the announcer from The Price Is Right. Names should simply be read with dignity and confidence. Additionally, the volume of the public address system should be loud enough to power over ambient conversations, but not so loud that it borders on uncomfortable.
Keep the length of the commencement ceremony under control.
When it comes to best practices for commencement, the length of the ceremony is a recurring topic. Our two-part series on this topic can be found here. In short, if steps can be taken to reduce the length of your ceremony while still maintaining its dignity, those steps should be considered.
Despite all the steps you might take to discourage spectator outburst at comments, they are still likely to happen. In the concluding segment to this series, we will look at ways that various schools and universities are responding to these disruptions after they occur.