5 questions for ... Bill Reuling
Photo by Desirée Myers
For ‘Mr. Commencement,’ it's the final sendoff
For the past 10 years Academic Affairs' Bill Reuling has—with the help hundreds of TU faculty and staff members—overseen moving and memorable occasions for TU graduates and their families.
Now, with July 1 retirement approaching, he reminisces about his 38 years at TU, especially his role in organizing the university’s semiannual Commencement Exercises.
When does TU begin planning for spring Commencement?
We typically start during the preceding September, but planning begins in earnest in January. As assistant to the provost, I co-chair the Commencement Planning Committee, which consists of at least 25 people representing the Office of the President, TU Police Department, Traffic and Parking, Black and Gold Catering, Housekeeping Services, Alumni Services and more—the event ultimately involves hundreds of people. There’s also an Honorary Degree Committee that considers candidates for the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
What are some of the behind-the-scenes challenges?
There’s the complicated process of picking the speakers and banner carriers: The registrar creates lists of hundreds of graduating seniors with the requisite GPAs, which we cull to 20 to 25 per college. Then we ask the deans and department chairs to recommend the students from that group based on personal qualities. We advise the speakers—from honorary degree recipients to the undergraduate and graduate students—about content and time limits. Then there's the coordination of marshals and the readers, all faculty volunteers. We also need to decide how many tickets to print. It's a terrifically complicated job, and you can't relax until it's over.
Would you share some favorite memories?
I remember Hoke Smith’s last Commencement in January 2001—nothing was said, but we all felt sad about it. In 2004 we held Commencement in the stadium when millions cicadas were expected to hatch. One woman caller was practically hysterical about it, despite my assurances that stadium construction had probably destroyed the larvae. (Nobody spotted a cicada at the ceremonies.) In 2005 we held a single ceremony in the stadium. The weather was gorgeous and everything went perfectly despite the enormous crowd of 13,000. Because of the upredictability of the weather and space contraints, we returned to indoor Commencement last year, holding six ceremonies in the Towson Center with a total of 18,000 attendees. In fact, I've been involved in planning commencements for 81,779 of the 110,000 TU students who've graduated thus far.
Are commencements significantly different now?
You have more students participating—in the ’70s and ’80s they weren’t as interested. Commencement has become a very important transition for parents as well as the graduates. That’s why the university wants their last experience here to be one of their best, even if it’s bittersweet in some ways. We put a lot of effort into creating 90-minute ceremonies that are memorable, that instill a sense of pride and accomplishment. Dr. Caret wants graduates to walk across that stage to receive their diplomas—he knows how much it means to them and their parents. Commencement is one of the major moments in people's lives, whether they're the first or last in their families to earn a degree.
How are you planning to spend retirement?
I’m looking forward to my first summer off in 40 years! My wife and I are touring the Pacific Northwest and Alaska in July and August. And we have many friends in Ocean City who’ve invited us to spend time with them.
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