My sister was one of the 17,823 students to graduate from the University of Southern California this year and I was one of her several family members present for the festivities. We attended the School of Education doctoral ceremony – only for those receiving an Ed.D. – and yet there were still over 300 candidates to be hooded. Even without speeches, the program lasted over two hours.

Commencements are tricky business for event planners because people only truly care about 30 seconds of the program, but for those fleeting moments to be meaningful they must be embedded in pomp and circumstance and combined with hundreds of others having their fame.

At USC, they held 33 separate ceremonies in addition to the main graduation and baccalaureate. Over 60,000 guests passed through campus to see their friend or family member celebrate their accomplishment. And while program-specific recognitions make the experience more personal, the multitude of events require extra steps to pull off. For example, thousands of chairs were set up on every quad, and all were individually clipped together with zip ties to avoid having to do a realignment. The ceremony was live streamed to accommodate overflow crowds. Campus maps were printed on giant vinyl banners and hung in strategic locations. An Office of University Events was created to orchestrate the logistics.

The Power of Moments and other research has shown that the ending makes a disproportionately high impact on people’s feelings about the overall experience. If you are involved in commencements, retirement parties, hospital discharges or any event planning, dedicate the extra attention to the details of the farewell.

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