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Commencement volunteers tell their stories

With the end of the semester and commencement quickly approaching, the entire campus will be focusing on the accomplishments of our graduates. Commencement serves as a time to honor all of these students for their hard work and dedication to their education.

While this is surely a time to celebrate our students, we should also take this time to recognize all of our staff and faculty who work diligently to coordinate these commencement ceremonies. Volunteers help with all aspects of commencement from student check-in to assisting guests who need seating accommodations.

Terri Haerr, commencement coordinator for the Dean of Students Office, says, “Hosting six spring commencement ceremonies with nearly 3,700 students participating, and thousands of family members and friends in the audience, is truly a team effort across all areas of campus.  The commencement volunteer team is at the heart of making the ceremonies flow so smoothly.”

Narry Kim, ’93, M.S. ’95, ’99, has been volunteering with commencement for a decade. Taking on various roles, she has dedicated the past few years to helping the Office of Disability Concerns as a disability assistant.

“If you don’t live or work here, then maneuvering around Redbird Arena can be confusing and intimidating, especially if you have someone who has special needs,” said Kim.

Disability assistants provide directions and work with Disability Concerns staff and Redbird Arena ushers to guide guests to the seating reserved for those with limited mobility. “For me, volunteering is a chance to be reassuring and welcoming, and give people one less thing to worry about so they can enjoy commencement,” Kim said.

The task is one that is special to Kim’s heart. Her brother San Kim, ’96, who died from complications of Muscular Dystrophy in 2014, spent years confined to a wheelchair. “I know what it is like to worry. Every time we took my brother somewhere, we planned ahead so we could find accessible parking, see how to get him into a building, and think about where he was going to sit,” said Kim. “If there is a way we can make it easier for families, I want to be there to lend a hand.”

Haerr says that while the volunteers fill a critical role in providing the necessary assistance for the ceremonies, “they are also celebrating and supporting the accomplishments of the students they have watched grow throughout their years at Illinois State University.”

This is true for Tim Tribble, a longtime commencement volunteer who truly loves being part of the ceremonies as a marshal. Commencement marshals lead the processional and have the challenging task of dismissing the rows of graduates as they prepare to cross the stage, standing with the graduates throughout the entire ceremony.

Tribble says, “Being a marshal is a chance to say one last goodbye to our students and to share in one of their proudest moments of having been a Redbird. Getting to see the pride, joy, and sometimes relief of having just walked across the stage is a really cool moment for the students, their families, the deans and department chairs, and for the faculty and staff. Commencement is an awesome experience for everyone and being a marshal lets me share in that moment.”

Kim doesn’t feel that the one day a semester to volunteer for commencement is a strain on her schedule. “A lot of people are really busy, so I know it’s tough to find time to volunteer. It’s great that commencement is once a semester,” she said, noting the short time volunteers put in can make a large impact. “Even if you are only speaking with someone for five minutes, the time and information you’re providing can mean a lot to the person you are helping.”

Volunteer positions are still available for the spring commencement ceremonies on May 6 and 7. Check the Graduation Services website for more information and to sign up for a volunteer position.

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