How CPO Makes Commencement Happen

Each year, for just one weekend, BU’s Charles River Campus is taken over by the celebration of that year’s graduating class. For the graduates and their families, the celebration may seem to fly by but, for Campus Planning & Operations (CPO), it’s the culmination of months of hard work. 

In late January, Events & Conferences delivers an outline of the weekend to CPO’s Commencement team. Using this outline, the Space Management team creates digital plans for each of the 150+ events that take place over the weekend. These plans account for every little detail, from podium placement to diploma box location. CPO’s Commencement team then coordinates with Sourcing & Procurement to order the necessary supplies from outside vendors and contractors. This is equipment that BU does not keep on hand, such as barricades, tents, stages, sound systems, and the thousands of chairs needed across campus. 

By April, preparation is in full swing. On Nickerson Field, Jim Malone and Greg Limerick, with their team of in-house tradespeople, spend weeks repairing walkways, replacing grass in high-traffic areas, fixing any broken bleachers, planting annuals and other greenery, and giving the area an overall shine. The teams – both on the field and across campus – work long hours, especially in the weeks leading up to Commencement. 

Malone is in awe of the dedication everyone involved has. “A lot of work goes into making the campus look nice for the students and they deserve it,” Malone said. “They have worked so hard to get to this point in life. I wish them all the best moving forward in the next chapter of their lives.” 

Limerick, manager of Trucking & Grounds, is Malone’s partner on Nickerson. He also oversees all inter-University deliveries handled by Trucking, such as signage and regalia, and work done by the grounds team. Each year, the team places a special focus on sustainability by using plants that can be reused and replanted across all three campuses after the ceremonies. 

Lisa LaFrance leads the charge for any event taking place away from Nickerson Field, especially the convocations of the 17 schools and colleges at BU. She coordinates event-site deliveries that Limerick and the trucking team execute to make Events & Conferences’ vision for each ceremony a reality. She also works with site managers during the big weekend. These site managers, who are responsible for ensuring the event they are assigned to runs smoothly, are area managers from Custodial Services, and volunteers from other groups within CPO, such as Planning, Design & Construction. 

LaFrance is a night owl, staying much later than her normal workday during Commencement season to juggle her responsibilities, like many other members of the Commencement team. For her, words from a former BU president inspire her to stay dedicated during such a stressful time. “During Commencement, there was a moment when Dr. Brown would ask the students to turn around and applaud their parents,” LaFrance said. “To me, that’s it. That’s the whole reason we’re here. I would tear up every time.” 

No one in CPO is left out of the preparation. All trade shops work together across campus to make sure equipment and supplies are where they need to be for each event. All podiums, diploma boxes, and hooding boxes are painted, sound systems are installed, directional signs are placed, and more. Custodial Services takes painstaking measures to set up each of the 13,000 chairs in perfect symmetry to achieve the iconic BU Commencement layout. All of this only scratches the surface of the projects that occur once Commencement season is upon us, and this is before any graduate receives a diploma. 

The week itself, with events beginning on Monday, is a whirlwind of activity for CPO. LaFrance and the location managers go over every detail to make sure each event runs smoothly. Malone and Limerick oversee activity on Nickerson Field. Volunteers from around CPO help show the graduates where to line up, direct families to their seats, and help turnover venues that have multiple events in one day. 

Then, it’s time for cleanup.  After months of preparation, our staff has just days to return our campuses to normal in time for summer classes. Vendors return to collect rented gear and CPO staff returns all items back to their respective shops and storage areas, where they will await the next Commencement ceremony. 

Commencement weekend is always a beautiful time at BU. It’s a time for celebration of our graduates’ hard work and the dedication of all the faculty and staff that helped them along the way. The extra hours, sacrificed weekends, and endless planning are all worth it once another class of Terriers receives their diplomas. 



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