A very special delivery
Go behind the scenes to see how Ohio State prints more than 16,000 diplomas — name, degree and distinctions included — for three commencement ceremonies every year.
Ohio State is one of few universities that delivers real diplomas to graduates at commencement ceremonies. It’s a seemingly simple gesture. But in fact, a veritable army of Buckeyes battle the clock to ensure every graduate receives a personalized diploma. How do they do it? Here’s a peek behind the curtain from spring commencement 2017.
Less than three weeks. That’s the time allotted for the Office of Commencement to process more than 11,000 diplomas for spring graduation. In preparation, the staff curates what’s dubbed The List — the master document containing the name of each graduate and every degree they’re about to receive from Ohio State. Some students apply to graduate as early as the September prior to spring commencement, while others check off their requirements in March, less than two months before the ceremony. By April 18 (20 days before commencement), The List is ready. Office of Commencement staff members send the names to UniPrint, Ohio State’s in-house printer, where each unique diploma will be produced. The race is on.
Four days later, on April 21, UniPrint completes the printing process. That’s nearly 3,000 diplomas produced each day. Within that time frame, the diplomas also are sent out to an outside printer that applies the official Ohio State seal to each diploma. While time and change have shaped Ohio State since its founding, diplomas stand apart: “It’s the one thing that’s constant. It doesn’t really change much. Even the visual appearance of it really hasn’t changed since the beginning,” says Pete Hagedorn, a prepress operator at UniPrint who has been involved in the process for 15 years.
Proofreading and packaging
With the diplomas back in the Office of Commencement, the staff has until May 2 (seven business days later, if you’re counting) to proofread them, place them in their iconic red covers and organize them for the ceremony. “Your adviser comes in, and there’s three people who proofread your diploma — name, honors, distinctions — before you even put it in the cover and into the envelope,” says Amanda Merryweather ’17, former student assistant for the Office of Commencement. “Your diploma goes through so many steps, and so many people are making sure it’s correct before you actually get it.”
Next, the diplomas are placed in 185 wooden boxes built specifically for this purpose. Each document is alphabetized and arranged to correspond with the 13 lines of Buckeyes who will receive their diplomas simultaneously at the Ohio Stadium ceremony.
Multiple degrees? No problem
Over the next three days, from May 3-5, the diplomas from students earning dual degrees are removed from the boxes and banded together. Graduates who earn degrees from multiple colleges tell their advisors which group they plan to walk with at commencement.
This step is crucial for graduates such as Daniel Ferguson ’10, ’10, ’10, ’17 MEd. (Yes, that’s correct.) In 2010, Ferguson emerged from the ’Shoe proudly displaying all three of his undergraduate degrees — in German, linguistics and theater.
In the midst of this bustle, the last day of final exams falls on May 2. Starting May 3, colleges quickly provide any changes required for the diplomas to remain accurate — for example, a change in the level of honors received. Corrections are sent to UniPrint for reproduction until noon Saturday, May 6, less than 24 hours before Ohio Stadium opens the doors to guests.
From the time final grades are submitted, UniPrint and commencement staff have fewer than four days to verify degrees and process the necessary changes. On those days, Katie Schwegman ’10, program coordinator for the Office of Commencement and Special Events, arrives before 7:30 a.m. and sometimes stays until after 9 p.m.
On May 7, the finish line is in sight. Boxes of diplomas are delivered to the stadium by no later than 9:30 a.m. On the field, 136 tables await their arrival. Each table and box are arranged to accommodate — flawlessly — the 13 lines of graduates.
“Commencement is successful to us when nobody even thinks you put much time into it. Because it just happened without a question,” Schwegman says. “That’s why it’s meaningful. There’s a lot of pride in doing a big event like that and getting it to go off without a hitch.”
Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Diplomas are placed in the hands of accomplished graduates.
“Especially in the stadium, it never gets old,” says Tim Watson ’81, ’96 MPA, director of graduation services. “It’s just an amazing sight — everyone there in the caps and the gowns and the pageantry of it. The diplomas out on the field. It really is something to see.”
By the end of the ceremony, every graduate receives a meticulously crafted document that reflects his or her unique interests, challenges and ultimate triumph. More than that, though, it’s a document that unites a community of more than half a million Buckeyes. Welcome to the family.