Jeffrey Born went to a large state university in the Midwest. For his undergraduate commencement, students marched onto the football field, listened to a few speeches, stood up, moved their tassels over, and sat back down. Born received his degree in the mail a few weeks later.
Although he went on to achieve both a master’s degree and doctorate, Born said he was working by that point and couldn’t attend the graduation ceremonies. Perhaps that’s why he’s volunteered for nearly 20 years as Northeastern’s chief marshal, a member of the cadre of marshals—a group of 19 volunteer faculty members from across the university that helps organize Commencement, the President’s Convocation, and other major university events.
“I started volunteering when I first arrived here in 1988,” said Born, professor of finance in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. “I worked the first event and I enjoyed it—I guess because I never went to enough of my own graduations.”
The cadre attends official university events “anytime there is a desire for pomp and circumstance,” Born explains. These include graduation ceremonies for the law and business schools, the honors award ceremony, PhD hooding, and others. The main event, of course, is the undergraduate Commencement ceremony.
The cadre is responsible for ushering people into the building, ensuring they are seated appropriately, and—most importantly—making sure graduates get their diplomas, Born said. The cadre also processes into the ceremony together. Unlike most universities that mail official diplomas out later, Northeastern graduates receive theirs at the commencement ceremony, Born explained.
“We couldn’t do our ceremonies without their leadership,” said Assistant Vice President and University Registrar Linda Allen, who works closely with the cadre to organize Commencement.
Chris Bosso, professor in Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, has served on the cadre for almost 20 years. He described Commencement as “always on the border of chaos, but it tends to work out fine.” It’s also the event that he said leaves the biggest impression on him each year.
“You’re watching the students at the very end of their time here,” Bosso said. “What stands out is the looks on their faces as they’re getting ready for that transition.”
More than 3,900 Northeastern students will graduate this year. “Over the years, graduation has become cool,” he said, explaining that it wasn’t always the case that such a large proportion of students would attend Commencement. In earlier years, many of them opted to skip the ceremony. “Now, we set new records every year,” Born said. “It’s a standing-room-only kind of event.”
One of the perks of being in the cadre of marshals is meeting the Commencement speaker. Born recalled the year then-President Bill Clinton spoke at the old Boston Garden, where Commencement used to be held. It was demolished in 1998 and replaced with the current facility, TD Garden. “President Clinton was very personable,” Born said. “He was also notorious for being a little bit late, and it was no exception on that day,” The band played an extra hour while everyone waited in the hot arena, Born said, explaining that there was no air conditioning in that building, like there is now in the new Garden.
Commencement, Born said, is the ultimate payoff after a busy semester.
“It really recharges your batteries as a member of the faculty,” Born said. “It’s such a positive event, it’s just infectious. Going home I find myself thinking, ‘Now I know why I do this. This is why I do this.’”
The full cadre of marshals includes Stefano Basagni, Jeffery Born, Chris Bosso, Luca Caracoglia, Dennis Cokely, Martin Dias, Jean Egan, Chuck Fountain, Leon Janikian, David Kaeli, Dan Kennedy, Susan Montgomery, Jay Mulki, Mary Jo Ondrechen, Mary Susan Potts-Santone, Carmen Sceppa, Heather Streets-Salter, Annemarie Sullivan, and Ronald Willey.