Leading the way: The ins and outs of being chief marshal at GSDM commencement

As the opening strains of Pomp and Circumstance echoed through the Boston University Track & Tennis Stadium on May 17, 2019, and as family and friends held cameras aloft and craned their necks to see their graduates, all eyes were on the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) Class of 2019—and the man standing at the front of the procession, Dr. Carl McManama, as he led the graduating postdoctoral residents and predoctoral students to their respective seats.

As chief marshal, it is McManama’s duty to, among other tasks, lead in the graduates and call the convocation to order before Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter initiates the proceedings of the Commencement Convocation.

But what else, exactly, does a marshal do?

“We’re traffic cops, we’re ushers, we’re organizers,” McManama said, running through the list of duties handled by commencement marshals.

Marshals ensure that the residents and students are seated in the proper alphabetical order and, thus, will receive their correct Certificates of Advanced Graduate Studies (CAGS) and diplomas. Marshals check that the students are properly dressed, with their cap, gown and hood positioned correctly. They confirm that the rules are being followed—no balloons or air horns allowed—and lead the students out of the fieldhouse at the end of the ceremony, making sure that there isn’t a “logjam,” in McManama’s words, of graduates, faculty, staff, family, and friends at the door trying to get out at the same time.

“It’s a big event, and it’s really our responsibility to make certain it goes smoothly,” McManama said.

As Chief Marshal, McManama has even more duties. He meets with the pre- and postdoctoral students ahead of graduation to make sure they know what to expect. He chooses the other marshals and assigns responsibilities to them. And if the venue changes—which it has, several times, since McManama has taken on the role—he needs to arrive early and review the new layout.

McManama has served as Chief Marshal for about 35 years. He took over the role after the former chief marshal Dr. Lloyd Chaisson, retired.

“I do think that it’s a privilege, and an honor,” he said.

For McManama, who is a professor in the Department of General Dentistry, serving as chief marshal means coming full circle.

“I teach all four years, and I remember what these students were like their first week of their freshman year,” McManama said.

McManama said it’s gratifying to see how far the students have come, and he takes pride in knowing that they will go on to do great work professionally.

“I really feel proud of what I’ve done, but also proud of what the faculty has done, to point them in the right direction,” he said. “It’s a happy time.”