When I worked in Intensive Care as a Nurse’s Aide we worked under the philosophy of “Always be prepared.” For me, that meant the first thing required every day on my shift, which was also done at the beginning of every shift, was to inventory all the supplies - about 70 - in each cabinet next to a patient’s bed. This included everything from Band-Aids and multiple emergency first aid items to towels, wash cloths, and bed linens. Then, we inventoried everything in the linen closet. If we were short by one wash cloth, it was immediate retrieval from the hall closet. If the hall closet was short, it was immediate notice to the laundry department who delivered what we were short post haste! Even then, in some emergencies, we ran short. Plan B of the “always be prepared” motto was to take supplies from another ICU patient room and restock everything ASAP after the emergency was handled. “Don’t panic; take action” was our unspoken mantra.
When I began teaching, a wise and experienced teacher gave me this life-saving tip. “At the top of your Lesson Plan, every day, write, “Something unexpected may happen today.” Then if it does, you can say you were prepared because it was at the top of your Lesson Plan. Sage advice! I took it to heart and it worked. It gave me a strong mental base to be prepared and be calm, come what may.
“Back 40” Training
Fast forward about 20 years, and my role is not unlike David on the back forty tending sheep. By God’s design, I am a mere usher in in the farthest corner of a large gymnasium/auditorium for graduation of a university: scoping out the best seats, helping parents find ideal spots to take photos, aware of what to do in case of emergency evacuation, where all the exits are, helping people up or down the bleachers, and discretely slipping off my shoes to rest my feet before the Recessional. Reliability, team work, and attention to detail ultimately led to the Head Usher roles in my sixth and seventh years. This involved creatively securing an entire team of ushers for two ceremonies in one day, writing a training document, helping to determine a dress code, and handling come what may.
Birthing the First Baby
In 2011, when we were crafting our first ever commencement for Shepherds College, and the Dean was out for major back surgery from April on, and someone needed to pull together the details of the actual ceremony plan, I called on my friends from the university for support in commencement protocol and plowed on. Words from the book of Esther came to mind, “…for such a time as this.” God had prepared the way for me with past experiences, and by God’s grace and strength and a massive cooperation from every department at Shepherds, we celebrated a grand inaugural graduation. God’s hand was evident!
Best Laid Plans
This year we celebrated our 4th annual commencement. You’d think we would be rolling along by now, but as the saying goes, even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry. We thought you might enjoy reading about five amazing God-moments that even the best laid plans could not contain.
God-Moment #1: Baccalaureate Bell Choir
Two or three days before our Baccalaureate service for the graduates, the bell choir director came to me to say that two of the choir members had not received permission to be off from work for one hour that morning to perform. They had followed policy at work and turned in their request a week or two in advance, but their immediate supervisor had failed to turn it in to the appropriate personnel for approval. Well, I thought, good thing I didn’t print the programs yet. I assured the director that I always had a Plan B, which would have been to substitute taped music overhead in place of their 15 minutes, but we would certainly prefer to hear the bells, a rare treat for the college!
The director was waiting for a call back that very day from the members’ place of employment to see if it would work out. She did get that call the following day and the bell choir was able to play with all its members! There are no current trained substitutes for the choir should someone become ill or otherwise not be able to play, so we were grateful it all worked out. I have encouraged the director to plan one or two ministry concerts a year so we can enjoy this beautiful choir more often. We thank God they have been a part of Baccalaureate all four years so far, and especially this year, with last minute emergency prayers!
God-Moment #2: The Speaker’s Cap and Gown
As soon as we have a confirmed speaker, I make contact to ask for bio information, and to find out if they need a cap and gown. This year, we had a confirmed speaker early on, so we had a good start. All the details of a graduation event take time, and an early start is always an advantage. I take the blame for this detail because I cannot remember if I ever asked the speaker if he had a cap and gown from his alma mater and if he told me no. At the Friday night reception before graduation day, Mr. Terrill introduced me to our speaker. I was happy to meet him and asked if there was anything he needed at the pulpit to speak. We talked of a few details and then I asked if he had a cap and gown. He did not, but said he had a black suit. I simply said we would take care of that and gown him in a doctoral gown as our honored guest.
Saturday morning of graduation, I checked the official guide to academic protocol, and honored guests without academic regalia are, indeed, robed in doctoral garb. All thanks to God, we had an extra bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral gown and cap from previous graduations. It was a seemingly seamless solution, but it was God who helped those details to be in place this year as He has helped us build our commencement event over the last three years.
God-Moment #3: Graduation Morning Photo Shoot
This year we were so blessed to learn of and acquire an excellent photographer, Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography. She took amazing photos of our graduates in a photo shoot before commencement, then for the Friday Night Celebration Reception, and was also coming for Graduation Day. The plan, which the Dean’s office assumed was set, was for Ms. Hansen to come for a photo session at 11:30 a.m. graduation morning to capture the students donning caps and gowns and to take group shots of them with the Deans and Director.
Tick-tock, tick-tock... it was 11:30 and there was no photographer to be found. The Dean is searching for her or the Director of Marketing who was our main contact person for her.
We had numerous photo shoots this spring for magazines plus graduation, and in all the hullabaloo of planning for all of them, this particular shoot, somehow, was not put on the calendar for the photographer or our Director of Marketing. What to do now? Becci Terrill, our Friday Night Reception Coordinator, was searching the grounds for the photographer and saw Susan, our Director of Marketing, just arriving. Susan was here with her camera because she did not expect the photographer here until later. As it turned out, the photographer had a morning emergency anyway when one of her children got bitten by a dog, so she would not have been here even if it had been on her schedule. Susan only had her camera because she was not expecting the photographer to be here, so in the end, we had a photographer and pictures as the Dean’s office had anticipated. Thank you, God, for orchestrating Susan to be here with her camera in spite of lost dates and dog bites!
God-Moment #4: The Flag Bearer’s Bee Sting
The opening flag processional has become a much anticipated moment of the commencement ceremony. Our pool of flag bearers are keyed up with excitement, honored to be our color guard marching in to majestic, God-glorying drums and orchestrations. Like uniformed soldiers, they all wear black slacks and shoes with short-sleeved white shirts and white gloves. As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect” and practice they did, over and over, until everyone was comfortable and confident of the process and timing. This year, one flag bearer could not make any of the practices, so he had his own session just hours before the event with the flag coordinator and all the others. I practiced in his place all week and told our new Flag Coordinator, Michele McGarry, I could be a Plan B back-up if needed.
Because the students don’t have a chance to see the grand flag processional on graduation day (because they are lined up in the hallway waiting for their cue to process in), we let them sit in the bleachers during flag bearer practices, so they can get a feel for how the commencement ceremony begins. Residential Life staff are also with them as they sit through the practices.
This year, we had some technical difficulties just prior to the ceremony that kept me in the auditorium until about twelve minutes before start time. Seeing the flag bearers in place, I scurried out of the auditorium down to the back hallway where 75 students and faculty were waiting to be led to the auditorium entrance. Someone was just finishing up prayer as I took my place as Marshal at the head of the line. In a few minutes, with everyone calm and in order, we walked quietly to the doors of the auditorium where the flag processional had just started. Through the narrow glass panel of the door, I barely saw a swift motion of someone in a white jacket move past the window. I didn’t have time to think much of it when Sheri Wright, one of the flag bearers, pushed past me to enter the doors while saying, “Who took my flag?” “I have no idea,” I replied and wondered why and how someone would take her flag.
In the time it had taken me to walk from the auditorium to the back hallway and come back to the gym doors, Sheri had been stung by a bee just under her collar! She is allergic to them, so she ran to nursing and then to the kitchen to make a baking soda paste to put on the sting site. In her absence, and in a split second of need, Julie Anderson, one of the Res Life staff who was standing by all dressed up to open the gym doors for the faculty/student processional, and who sat in on all the practices while overseeing the students in the bleachers, grabbed the flag of the missing bearer and smoothly took her place in the opening. She confidently marched her flag around the room and back to its stand and no one in the audience knew the difference.
She just “happened” to be in a solid black dress with a white jacket to blend in with the flag bearer uniform of white on top and black on the bottom. This was even more amazing when she told me her daughter had tried to talk her into wearing a black and white print dress of hers. Julia was not comfortable with the print or the length and instead decided to don a solid black dress that hit below her knees coupled with a short-sleeved light-weight jacket. Not only that, but she lost track of time at home and was running late. As soon as she stepped into the gym, she had only just set her purse down on her chair and had just stepped toward the doors by the flag bearers when the bee was noticed. Out went the bearer and in split seconds, without time to be nervous, between her and the other door holder, they decided she was better dressed to carry the flag and off she went!
God-Moment #5: The Videographer’s Proposal
Lights, camera, music, action! Our big event was in process. Introductions, prayers, and songs had been sung; it was time for our special speaker. Every year we stress over the sound system which was designed eons ago for a gym, not for events with speakers, choirs, and microphone needs. It is our thorn in the flesh every year.
This year we had a wireless clip-on mic for the main speaker, but shortly into his speech, we began to hear booming and loud pops intermittently. What was that? Were people on the bleachers making that noise? No, it didn’t seem so. Were there kids outside bouncing basketballs into the side wall? No, I could hear it coming from the other side of the room at times. As the speaker continued, the pops and booms were heard in various places around the room. Our guest videographer and his two student assistants were huddled in the corner scrambling to problem solve. The Marketing Director was on the opposite side of the gym frustrated about the booming in the bleachers. This went on for the speaker’s entire speech. Ugh. What happened? After much research and discussion, it was determined that the speaker’s wireless had somehow come loose, and every time he leaned forward and hit the podium, it was shorting and making the booming or popping sounds. The video team was beside themselves wondering what to do to produce a memorable DVD for us. It turned out, in the end, to be an excellent learning experience for the team. Their instructor, the head of the Visual Arts Department at the local high school, suggested that beyond splicing together a wonderful montage of this year’s ceremony, they would like to know if they could come back next year-periodically throughout the year-to capture multiple third year student footage for a more comprehensive summary of their last year leading up to graduation! Would that be possible?! Why, yes, yes, yes, and thank you, God! With some grooming and practice at doing public events such as this, our Marketing Director and I saw this as a wonderful, wonderful God-driven win-win situation.
So, it was God all along. God in the training, God in the making, and God to the rescue. No matter how detailed the plans, how complete the lists, how many practices we shoot for, there is always the potential for surprises and human error. We’re not in our perfect bodies or minds yet! All we can do is close this blog the same way we end every commencement program booklet,
To God be the glory!
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