Behind the scenes of commencement

The stage in Centennial Hall for Commencement this year – courtesy of Mr. Jordan Hayman

As the spring semester comes to a close, the class of 2020 prepares for the start of life beyond Haverford. Normally, Sixth Formers and their friends and family gather in the Field House in early June to celebrate Commencement, but the pandemic has made large gatherings impossible. This year, the school has continued the tradition in an unorthodox way.

     Over the past few weeks, Sixth Formers have been traveling to Centennial Hall with two guests, usually parents, for an individual ceremony lasting thirty minutes. 

     Sixth Former Aditya Sardesai described his arrival at the campus.

     “You pull into the lower school entrance, public safety tells you where to park, you get your temperature checked, and then you walk into Centennial,” Sardesai said. 

     Once inside, the students receive their blazers before walking through a faculty gauntlet.

     “Usually at graduation, all the teachers are standing on either side of you and forming an aisle for you to walk down,” Sardesai said. “In this case, it wasn’t the faculty in-person but their pictures, which I found pretty cool.”

     Next, each Sixth Former is directed through the procedures.

     “Dr. Nagl walks you through how things are going to go,” Sardesai said. “You walk across the stage, get your diploma, hug your parents, and then they [the photographers] take some pictures before you go backstage to pick up a goodie bag. Then, you go back out to your car and leave.”

      Despite the changes in procedures, Sixth Formers still felt a sense of closure from the ceremony.

     “It felt very final,” Sixth Former Kwaku Abdubofour said. “I’m satisfied with my ending. I feel like if I didn’t have anything [at the end], I would feel cheated of some conclusion of my high school experience. With this [ceremony], I feel good.”

     In order to continue Commencement this year and offer the Sixth Formers a formal ending to their school careers, a small group of people worked behind the scenes to coordinate the event.

     Director of Advancement Services Mrs. Disty Lengel, who works in Palmer House, was one of these individuals. 

     “Two of the senior-class parents went in to decorate Centennial for the graduation ceremony, and it took them around seven hours. They were karting in flowers, carting in pictures [of the faculty], and setting things up,” Mrs. Lengel said.

Mrs. Disty Lengel talking about the plans behind this year’s Commencement

     Another time-consuming endeavor was giving gifts to the families of the Sixth Formers.

     “Because the mothers were not recognized at the [graduation] luncheon, we are delivering a gift bag to their homes,” Mrs. Lengel said. “Also, because not everything is in yet [for the students], there is going to be another drop-off of gift bags. And that’s actually a huge undertaking because the seniors come from countless zip codes. There are 113 of them, and it seems like nobody lives in the same town.”

     Ensuring the safety of everyone present also required much planning and work.

     “It was a lot of logistics,” Upper School Head Mr. Patrick Andrén said. “Families had to walk in a specific way down a specific path, as well as do all those things that are the realities of COVID-19 dictated events now.”

     Mrs. Lengel elaborated on the regulations and the individuals behind them.

     “Sodexo has been huge. They’re the ones that set up the safety protocols and ensured there were never more than ten people in Centennial at the same time. They had security make sure there were only three people in the cars, and they checked to make sure everyone was masked and gloved before they came in,” Mrs. Lengel said.

     Another major contributor to Commencement this year was Mr. Jordan Hayman, the owner of the production company Motto Films. His crew helped film each Sixth Former walk onstage and receive their diploma; later, he will use the footage to create a cohesive video with every student’s ceremony.

     Before filming started, Mr. Hayman was apprehensive.

     “The whole thing felt weird. I hadn’t left my house in two months, and all of a sudden I was going to go into a place, be doing my work the way I usually do it, be interacting with people somewhat like I used to, and it was all very strange,” Mr. Hayman said.

The setup for filming Commencement this year – courtesy of Mr. Jordan Hayman

     As time went on, however, Mr. Hayman began enjoying the experience.

     “On the daily, it was actually exciting and interesting because I was seeing my crew for the first time in two months, Dr. Nagl, who I’m close with, talking to the families as they came in. It all felt good,” he said.

     Emotions were strong among the administrators and faculty who planned and participated in the ceremonies.

     Headmaster Dr. John Nagl oversaw the logistics and was the announcer for the event.

     “I would announce ‘Mr. John Smith and Mrs. Linda Jones to their son, John Smith-Jones.’ And that was the kid’s cue, the first word I said. He would walk over to his mom who gave him his diploma, then he would hug his mom and dad. It was beautiful. It was a joy to see,” Dr. Nagl said. 

“For some of them, I cried. I’ve been at Haverford for over twenty years, so I know a lot of the families.”

Mrs. Didty Lengel

     Mrs. Lengel, who handed out gift bags, also felt sentimental watching.

     “For some of them, I cried. I’ve been at Haverford for over twenty years, so I know a lot of the families. It was just really nice. People got one-on-one time with Dr. Nagl and with their families, which was all great for them,” Mrs. Lengel said.

     “It really went without a hitch,” Mr. Hayman said. “Families were early or on time, they came in, they did what they needed to do, they respected the rules that were in place, and they left. It was exactly what we were hoping for.”

     “The filming portion went incredibly smoothly,” Mrs. Lengel said. “I think people were very happy. There were some small issues, but otherwise, things went smoothly, and everybody at the end was gracious.”

     With this year’s Commencement’s positive atmosphere and overall success, those involved felt it achieved its goal despite the restrictions.

“We might as well embrace this [situation], and make the most of it.”

Videographer Mr. Jordan Hayman

     “The truth is that it’s not the magic of a thousand people together in the Field House on a beautiful June afternoon. It just isn’t,” Dr. Nagl said. “But given that I couldn’t be, we feel like this was the best way we could respect the traditions of the school, give every kid the experience of walking, and even allow the parents to give the diploma to the student.”

     “We might as well embrace this [situation], and make the most of it,” Mr. Hayman said. “We wanted to bring another experience, and the administration did a great job doing so.”