A graduation ceremony is an acknowledgement of the years of hard work that went into achieving a degree. It is also a genuine source of enjoyment for alumni who choose to volunteer on the day.
This year, 32 Macquarie alumni volunteers have given 708 hours of their time at graduations. As impressive as they are, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Macquarie Matters team spoke with four alumni to understand what inspires them to volunteer and why giving back to their alma mater is important to them.
“I saw a note in one of the alumni newsletters asking for volunteers to usher at the graduations and decided to give it a go,” says senior HR professional Ms Golnar Adl, (BComm 2003) (pictured left).
Ms Adl had ushered at conferences and other large gatherings previously, so it was something she felt familiar with. Still, she found the experience of volunteering at graduation particularly special.
“We were given academic regalia to wear, and it felt like I was going through my graduation again, but this time I didn’t have the nerve-wracking moment of being on stage and remembering when to doff my cap – I could just enjoy the atmosphere.”
Volunteers often refer to the experience of sharing in the joy of graduates.
Ms Adl (far left) volunteering at a graduation in 2018
“As a volunteer, you are honouring the graduates’ achievements and also sharing in their enjoyment of the occasion,” says Mr Noel Wagg, (BA 1977, Hon D Litt 2019) (pictured right).
“When I address the graduands, I always tell them this will be one of the most important days of their lives and should not be missed.”
Mr Wagg is one of the University’s most committed alumni volunteers. In 2022 alone, he volunteered 147 hours of his time across 49 ceremonies. He has been volunteering since 2011 – two years after the first volunteers started – and says, “I don’t see why I can’t volunteer for years to come.”
An active Macquarie alumni member over this time, Mr Wagg has occasionally volunteered on the alumni scholarship selection panel but says his main contribution has been at graduation ceremonies. “Initially, that involved being an usher, but for the past eight years I’ve been the on-stage presenter before ceremonies start, instructing graduands on procedures.”
Mr Wagg, who was awarded Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) in 2019 for his service – says that for him, volunteering is an expression of thanks. “I chose to volunteer to repay the University for offering the external study format and looking after us as external students,” he says.
Mr Noel Wagg delivering the occasional address at a graduation ceremony
“This form of study was essential for me as I spent my first six years as a teacher in remote locations such as Batlow and Norfolk Island. Volunteering is a way to express my gratitude to all the lecturers and tutors who did such a fantastic job.”
This sense of giving back to the University is important to many of the volunteers, including Mr Phillip Morath, (MA 1981, PhD 1993) (pictured left), who has been volunteering since 2018. In 2023, he has already contributed 81 hours across 27 ceremonies. “I responded to a call for volunteers at graduations because Macquarie has been very good for me in terms of the knowledge, skills and discipline I gained from my time there.”
Both a student and employee of the University during the 1980s and 1990s, Mr Morath says, “I felt very supported and was given opportunities to study and work in an innovative and influential environment – I’ve benefited so much from Macquarie.”
Volunteering in this way allows alumni to maintain a meaningful connection to their alma mater. “Graduation is an important recognition of students’ effort and achievement, and for me, it’s wonderful to be a small part of it. It’s uplifting to see so much happiness in the graduates and their families and friends,” says Mr Morath.
Mr Morath enjoys listening to the announcements of the research theses because it gives him an appreciation of the newest issues and areas of research at the University. “It’s also an opportunity to see how the courses are leading and reflecting the changes in our community and environment,” he says.
He also enjoys meeting different alumni at the ceremonies and says it’s interesting to see where people’s lives have taken them post-study, especially in terms of their careers. Ms Adl agrees, and has found that she has much in common with some of the graduates.
“Being able to meet other HR professionals at Macquarie Business School graduations, in particular, has been a great opportunity to expand my professional network,” she says. “Over the years, I’ve connected with quite a few people, and last year a work project even eventuated from a connection I made at a ceremony.”
Ms Ald continues: “You’ll be surprised by what can happen when you get involved. I was particularly thrilled to see one of my favourite professors at one of the graduation ceremonies I was ushering at. After all these years, I was able to thank him for the path he set me on.”
Of course, there are also fellow volunteers who you get to know as well. “There are so many amazing people who volunteer,” says Ms Adl. “One of the volunteers was my maths teacher at high school – the one who first suggested I consider Macquarie University when I was trying to work out where and what to study.”
Many interesting stories come to light when speaking with volunteers. Ms Jill Brewster, (MBA 1999) (pictured right), a management consultant in financial services, has her fair share. From the time she was ringing the bell for graduands and their guests to go into the Graduation Hall and the bell fell apart, to the occasional graduate who jumps off the stage, she has many memories of volunteering at graduations.
Ms Brewster says her involvement is both practical and personal. “I’ve had many different roles that help in the seamless running of the graduation ceremony, such as assisting with graduate registration, seating graduands and guests in the Graduation Hall, answering questions, being backstage at the ceremony matching graduands to their testamurs, calming their nerves and explaining the process while they’re on stage,” she says.
“I enjoy talking to the graduates about their post-university employment and where their degree has taken them, as well as listening to the inspiring stories from the occasional speakers and graduate speakers.
“Most importantly, though, you’re contributing to a memorable graduation experience for the graduates after many years of hard work, and you can see the enjoyment on their faces and that of their family and friends.”
Ms Jill Brewster (second from left) volunteering at a 2018 graduation
It’s a purely selfless contribution to those who come after them and their alma mater, and a common thread among the volunteers – those who give so generously of their time, skills and often heart – is that they don’t do it for the recognition. “Volunteering is, by its very nature, adequate reward,” says Mr Wagg.
The University is deeply grateful for all its volunteers. They are, in no small way, part of the soul of the University.
Would you like to become a graduation volunteer at Macquarie? There are various time-commitment options and there’s an information session before the ceremonies.
On the day, volunteers assist in pre-ceremony preparations, from ushering guests to helping the Graduations team, and are encouraged to stay on for the ceremony and join the new graduates and their families afterwards for refreshments.
If you’re interested in volunteering at the upcoming Graduation Series, please fill out the form to register your interest.
This story was originally published in Macquarie Matters.