How Many Volunteers Does It Take to Pull Off Columbia's Commencement?

Lea Anzules, Commencement volunteer extraordinaire turned manager of all things Commencement volunteering, gives us the lowdown on how you can help out during the biggest day on campus. Sign up by April 22. 

By
Kelly Moffitt
April 15, 2022

Before Lea Anzules, a Project Officer in the Office of the President, took on the role of managing volunteering at Commencement as part of her full-time work, she was a Commencement volunteer herself. She counts the experience as one of the most fulfilling parts of working at Columbia and believes anyone who can give their time to make the university's largest event go off without a hitch will feel the same. 

"I was a volunteer in 2018, and in 2019 I joined the volunteer committee," Anzules said. "I was explicitly tasked with absorbing responsibilities previously held by Strategic Management for years and overseeing all the Commencement Day volunteers, including the Commencement Day Captains, that ensure the day's success.

"The Captains, amongst many others, are really the instrumental piece to Commencement Day as they lead the 20 teams across the Morningside campus, including the Program Distribution Team, the Ticketing Team, the Campus Perimeter Team, the Shuttle Team, and the Information Booth Team."

With the first time back to in-person Commencement in two years quickly coming up, Anzules is getting everyone reacquainted with what it takes to volunteer, from faculty to staff, to students, and, for the first time this year, alumni volunteers. 

This year, volunteers are encouraged to sign up as Event Hosts by April 22 and Marshals by May 6. The volunteering sign-up form is here. 

Columbia News sat down with Anzules to learn more about what it takes to be a Commencement volunteer, what exactly a volunteer does, how COVID-19 comes into play, and what makes the experience fulfilling.

How many volunteers are needed to make Commencement run smoothly?

We need upwards of 450 volunteers throughout Commencement week, and 260 volunteers for Commencement Day alone. 

What does volunteering entail? When are volunteers needed?

Sometimes, it is a family’s first-time visiting Columbia University and we want to ensure they have the best experience possible. Event Hosts help all guests feel welcome and at home on our campus. They are equipped with maps and briefing materials to help answer guest queries, identify bathrooms, reach appropriate gates, navigate campus, find a coffee spot and resolve any issues they may have.

We’ll also have many ticketing teams this year since all ceremonies are ticketed.

We look for enthusiastic and proactive volunteers from May 13 – to May 19. This includes the historic celebration for 2020/2021 grads on May 19!

What accommodations are being made for volunteering safely in light of COVID-19?

There will be tabletop hand sanitizers in every ceremony area. Masks will be distributed to anyone requesting or preferring to wear them (Event Hosts and guests). The majority of posts are outdoors in the open air.

What is it like to be a volunteer at Commencement?

As a volunteer, it is a fascinating time to be outdoors, engaging with families who are just so immensely happy to be here celebrating their graduating students. The families are sometimes nervous and volunteers provide answers to help them feel more comfortable. As a staff member of the university, it is also exciting to see the fruition of our work at an Ivy League institution. Students come and call this home but are now moving forward to bigger and better things, and we play a role in that final step for them and their families. 

Any special perks that you get for volunteering?

Food is provided for all volunteers. All volunteers get a blue volunteer t-shirt, a Columbia cap, and a water bottle holder this year for all Commencement-related celebrations (it fits all water bottle sizes). During Commencement Week, guests, students, and event hosts should bring their reusable bottles and fill them up at the water refill stations available on Morningside Campus.

And personally, what is the most fulfilling part of volunteering at Commencement to you?

The most fulfilling part is right when the gates open to let guests onto our campus and all Event Hosts have their first interaction with guests. Everyone is eager to arrive, the volunteers are keen to help, and it’s just an exciting feeling. At this point, the rest of the ceremony unfolds, and all the planning comes to fruition. It takes much logistical work to prepare in the backend, and it is incredible to watch it all unfold through the end of the ceremony. You can’t forget about fun selfies with volunteers throughout and the friendships you make with your volunteer team!