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At Ohio State, a diploma's path gets personal

April 30, 2018

Teamwork ensures that thousands get their own diploma on graduation day

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Student receiving her diploma

Amanda Merryweather vividly remembers that special day last May, when she sat in the stands of the iconic Ohio Stadium, part of the thousands of students in the 2017 graduating class - 11,734 students to be exact. And each of those students who walked that day received their very own, live diploma. Ohio State is one of the largest universities to attempt such a feat.

“It’s really special,” said Merryweather, who received a bachelor’s degree in health information management, and who has a special appreciation for the detailed path of an Ohio State diploma after working as a student assistant in the university’s Office of Commencement and Special Events.

“I’m proud that our university takes the time to make the ceremony special,” she said. “Looking down at the field and seeing all of the diplomas, I just appreciate it so much more.”

Katie Schwegman is part of the self-described “well-oiled machine” that ensures each diploma is correct and gets in the right hands during commencement. As a program coordinator in the Office of Commencement and Special Events, she’s part of the team that’s working to set the standard for handing out live diplomas.

“Ohio State is pretty well known for giving out live diplomas and going through the process,” she said. “So we get a lot of questions from other universities.”

The process begins when the university’s on-campus printer, UniPrint, receives the list of names and begins rolling out the 8.5 by 11 diplomas off the presses.

“I think it’s the most important thing we do here,” said operator Pete Hagedorn, who’s been involved in printing diplomas for more than 30 years. “That’s what it’s all about – getting students to a point where they’ve accomplished their goal and they have the diploma to prove it.”

At least three people proofread each diploma before it’s placed in its scarlet case. The diplomas then get divided among 185 wooden boxes and organized to ensure that each diploma gets handed to the correct student. Anyone who’s witnessed an Ohio State commencement knows the pageantry and pride involved as 13 lines of graduates walk in unison onto the field to collect their well-earned diplomas, beaming with pride as they shake the hand of their college’s dean.

“It never gets old,” said Tim Watson, the director of graduation services, who helps ensure that all of Ohio State’s graduate students meet all the requirements for commencement. “It’s just an amazing sight to see everyone in their caps and gowns. It really is something to see.”