During a commencement ceremony, there comes a tipping point where the audience starts to get restless and burnt out. Usually, this happens around the 90-minute mark. Without having a tight schedule and setting limits to the program, a ceremony can easily stretch longer than 3 hours. This is an intolerably long time to sit in one place, no matter the occasion. In this handy guide, we share five common-sense suggestions for keeping your graduation ceremony short.
Not every guest speaker should be introduced with a lengthy bio that takes time away from students. Instead, ceremony planners should list these details inside the printed commencement program. You can still introduce each speaker with a few brief bullet points, but it won’t be their entire life story. This way, family members can read more about the speakers at their leisure.
As a commencement planner, your job is to keep the ceremony humming along on schedule. Most of the program can be gauged with a rough timeline, but speeches often run longer than expected. It’s never fun to tell guests to cut their speeches short, but there is an artful way to do it. We recommend plotting out the entire ceremony so that each section has ample time, without going over the 90-minute mark. Then, see how much time is left for speeches, and divide it by the total number of speakers. Use this as your time limit.
When plotting out a commencement, always remember that graduates (and their families) are the reason for this grand occasion. If your ceremony is padded with awards for special teachers and administrators, you should consider cutting those sections. That may sound callous, but you can always host a separate banquet to honor faculty members.
Let’s say the commencement officially starts at 3pm. If you want to stay on time, students will need to line up at least 20 minutes earlier, so that the procession is ready to go. Let students know that this is not optional. At the same time, family members who want to see the student procession will need to take their seats a few minutes before 3pm. Otherwise, the show must go on!
When recognizing students on stage, stick to a fairly steady pace. There’s a sweet spot around five seconds, where you can keep the ceremony moving without it feeling rushed. This gives students enough time to shine, but they don’t have to be offstage before you announce the next name.