Before the first graduate at Commencement sets foot on the University Quad stage, crews from the Department of Facilities Management will have performed their magic to make the venue a showcase.
Workers from custodial, landscape, and building and mechanical services are committed to give the families and friends of graduates a good impression of the campus when the initial ceremony begins at 4 p.m. on Friday, June 9.
Carpenters will set up the stage and painters will spray lines on the University Quad lawn to mark where the 10,000 chairs will be set up in a semicircle. The landscape crew will make its final rounds to ensure that branches do not obstruct sight lines and that the backdrop is picture-perfect. Custodial workers will make sure that restrooms in nearby buildings and portable toilets stay clean and that the supply of soap, paper towels and toilet paper doesn’t run out during the three-day event.
Crews from building and mechanical services, which includes plumbers and electricians, will put a new coat on faded or chipped paint on buildings, scrape gum off walkways, wash windows in surrounding buildings, make sure that toilets flush and faucets run, repaint curbs near the Commencement venue and ensure that walkway lighting works for nighttime ceremonies. Landscape workers also groom two of the university’s legacy sites, the W.K. Kellogg Rose Garden and the Aratani Japanese Garden, to be in pristine condition for photographers and graduates.
No detail is overlooked.
“There’s a lot of preparation. It’s a group effort by everybody,” said Humberto Arias, the manager of custodial services. “We don’t interrupt the ceremonies. We’re kind of like the invisible crew.”
In the early afternoon on Friday, Richard Farmer, the manager of landscape and auto shop services, will have members of his crew drive a street sweeper to clean up the parking lots and structures, roadways and walkways. Workers also will place about 150 trash cans around the venue and lock down the timers to the lawn sprinkler system in the Quad to prevent any mischief.
“From the front door to the back door is basically what we’re doing. We prep everything from the parking lots to the walkway paths and make sure the areas are ready for people,” Farmer said. “We try to make everything look nice.”
If this were a baseball game, the custodial crew would be playing a double-header, with two ceremonies taking place on Friday. The game plan gets more complicated over the weekend, when three ceremonies are scheduled both days and the window narrows to get the venue ready for the next event.
Each day at the end of the ceremonies, nearly a ton of trash will be removed from the Quad and parking lots, Arias said. Plastic water bottles account for a substantial percentage of the waste, and those containers and other reusable items are sorted and placed in recycling bins as part of the university’s sustainability efforts.
Jesse Ochoa, the manager of building and mechanical services, assigns a four-member carpentry crew to start erecting the 50-by-50 foot Commencement stage three weeks before the ceremony. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning workers will hook up coolers to keep dignitaries and others donning academic robes comfortable on stage. They’ll also keep the air-conditioning running in adjacent buildings where faculty members will congregate before the ceremony.
“Combined, building and mechanical work services crews will spend a couple of hundred hours setting up,” Ochoa said. “There’s a lot going on, but we do it in a way where everything just appears. It’s really gratifying to see teamwork at its best.”
The stage gets an encore performance on Monday for the graduation ceremony of neighboring iPoly High School.
Some members of Farmer’s staff of 23 will be early risers on Saturday and Sunday. Crews will use electric blowers to expel morning dew from chairs and use the street sweeper to spruce up roadways and walkways starting at 5 a.m. Cleaning up after the last Commencement ceremony will stretch until midnight for custodial workers.
While maintaining the Commencement venue is the custodial crew’s focus, workers sometimes find themselves with an unanticipated task.
“We encounter a lot of things,” Arias said. “Sometimes there are children who get lost. The parents come up and say that they can’t find their kid and ask if we can help, and we’re always glad to do so.”