Planning a first-class graduation ceremony

Make sure your institution’s graduation ceremony gets remembered for all the right reasons

By Tilden Watson, Head of Education at Zurich Municipal

This time of year sees universities up and down the country holding graduation ceremonies: the pinnacle of their students’ educational journey.

Most institutions score top marks in planning graduation ceremonies, making them a memorable highlight of their students’ academic careers. But as with any series of big events, things do sometimes go wrong and universities are opening themselves up to a whole host of problems if risk management isn’t part of their preparations.

Here are some tips to make sure that this important event goes smoothly, and is remembered for all the right reasons.

Preparation makes perfect

Meticulous planning is the most essential factor of a successful graduation ceremony. It’s important to assess all aspects of the ceremonies before the season kicks off to understand all the risks involved. Key things to consider are:

  • Will young children, elderly people or disabled guests be attending?
  • How will the ceremony be coordinated? What services or provisions might be needed?
  • Are any licenses (e.g. alcohol) required?
  • Are adverse weather conditions likely to impact the event’s safe running?

Health and safety

Effective health and safety management must begin at the planning stage to protect the welfare of students, staff and guests. For example, consideration should be given to ensuring that the venue is both appropriate and large enough for the number of expected attendees, and that its disabled access is adequate.

At Zurich Municipal, our advisers always recommend that event managers draw up an event safety plan. This does not need to be a complicated document, but should include essential information such as:

  • Organisational structure and responsibilities for the event management
  • Risk assessments for each element of the event
  • Copies of any licences required
  • Consents and details of the arrangements for dealing with emergencies
  • It may also be useful to draw a sketch of the event site showing the location of any stages, first aid points, emergency access points and car parking facilities

Getting the right cover 

The event organiser must ensure relevant cover is in place, consulting their insurer if necessary. As well as the institution, it’s also vital that any contractor involved in the event is properly insured. All copies of insurance certificates should be obtained and retained on file in case they are ever needed.

Pre-event checks 

Before every ceremony, the event manager should walk through the site to carry out final checks on the venue’s safety. Key things to look out for include slip and trip hazards, such as trailing cables, and it’s also important to ensure emergency exit routes are not obstructed. For longer ceremonies, it might be necessary to carry out regular checks throughout, and record any actions taken.

Post-event debriefs

Planning does not finish at the end of the ceremony. Given that most universities will hold several graduation ceremony days in an academic year, undertaking a post-event debrief is absolutely essential to identify what could be improved from one event to the next.

For example, event managers should ask themselves whether any changes are needed to the running-order to make the event run more safely or smoothly. But it’s also important to recognise that learning from successes is equally as valuable as learning from what didn’t go so well. 

If the proper consideration is given to planning and preparation, then universities are going a long way to ensuring that their graduation ceremonies are first class.

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