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Commencement means "show day" at the Pan American Center

When New Mexico State University graduates and their supporters arrive at the Pan American Center for commencement ceremonies this week, the chairs will be set up, sound system working and bathrooms well-stocked. But all of this behind-the-scenes work has been a week's worth of effort for the operations and front-of-house crews at the center.


Three friends snap a pre-commencement photo of themselves with a smart phone outside NMSU's Pan American Center.
Before happy moments like this graduation photo happen, lots of behind-the-scenes work takes place to get the Pan American Center ready for the large crowds attending this weekend's commencement ceremonies. (NMSU photo by Jay Rodman)

What does it take to make large-scale events like this happen? Careful planning, flawless execution, carefully reviewed checklists and teamwork.

Doug Parten, event operations manager at the Pan Am Center calls commencement days "show days" for the center's staff. The many hours of planning and preparation leading up to a large event like NMSU's commencements help ensure events go as smoothly as possible.

Pan Am Center employees worked Thursday to ready the stage, chairs, lighting and sound systems for the Dona Ana Community College graduation Thursday evening. After that ceremony concluded, the crew broke everything down, cleaned the facility as needed, and started setting up for the NMSU Las Cruces campus commencements.

The Pan Am operations crew is only about 14 people strong, yet they're setting the stage for more than 2,000 graduates and their families. This preparation process includes setting up and cleaning more than 1,000 folding chairs, setting up a stage and ramps, placing flowers and plants on and around the stage, hanging banners and yes, even stocking the bathrooms.

"We typically go through about eight cases of toilet paper for all three graduation ceremonies, which adds up to about 192 large rolls of toilet paper," Parten said. "We'll probably go through about eight or nine cases of paper towels, too."

When participants and their friends and family members arrive for the ceremony, most will pick up a program. The Pan Am Center front-of-house crew works, even after the ceremony begins, to ensure programs are available at all of the doors, focusing much of their efforts on the north door, where the largest crowds typically seem to enter.

"We wind up having to move programs around while the ceremony is going on because the ingress continues until about 30 minutes after the ceremony has started," he said.

The front-of-house crew of about 46 people also will direct people to seating and assist Pan Am Center guests as needed.

"We do our best to have everything done prior to each ceremony so that we're prepared for any surprises," Parten said. "We sit down with the Registrar's office and calculate, almost to the last minute, how many graduates will be seated. There's nothing like having to put out an extra row of chairs as people are coming in."

If you are graduating this weekend or attending the ceremonies in support of friends or family, take a moment to consider the enormity of the efforts behind the scenes to set the stage for the event. And take a moment to thank any Pan Am Center employees you might see for helping to make the event a memorable one.

Commencement ceremonies constitute a mere fraction of the numerous events that the Pan Am Center hosts each year. To keep up with Pan Am events and to learn more about other NMSU events, news and services, download the NMSU Insider mobile application for your phone at http://nmsuinsider.mobapp.at/.