Jennifer Parrisi-Forti and Bill Battelle in the DCU Center

Director of Presidential & Institutional Events Jennifer Parissi-Forti and Events Director Bill Battelle

Q&A: Bill Battelle and Jennifer Parissi-Forti on changes to Commencement

Why is Commencement moving to the DCU Center this year?

BB: This move has been in discussion for several years, driven mostly by campus space constraints and attendance inequities. The Quad ceremony limited the amount of chairs under the tent and the past few years have yielded only four tickets per undergraduate student. In contrast, our 2024 undergraduates will receive eight tickets. As our graduating classes expand—both undergraduate and graduate—we have flexibility within the space the DCU provides.

JP-F: Additionally, being in New England, we always have weather to factor into our planning. The climate-controlled space means a safe and comfortable ceremony for all our students and guests. The DCU gives us improved peripheral amenities such as ample parking, ADA accommodations, restrooms, and concessions.

How will WPI’s well-loved traditions, such as the procession over Earle Bridge, be maintained?

JP-F: We’ve heard from many campus constituents, from students to alumni, that they want to keep WPI Commencement traditions intact. Our committee members were excited to take on this challenge and we have collaborated with students, faculty, staff, and alumni to make sure we were hitting the mark. The Earle Bridge crossing will happen, with graduates in regalia, a few days prior to Commencement and the procession will lead into Convocation (formerly called Baccalaureate). WPI faculty will still line the bridge to congratulate their students and our marketing team will film this tradition, and that will be shown at the DCU Center on May 9 and 10 for families and guests. With this change, we hope to find ways to introduce new traditions that will make the DCU Center an extension of our campus.

BB: Changing Baccalaureate to Convocation means we are able to celebrate both graduate students and undergraduates in unity and expand on the talent within our student population. This opens up the opportunity for our students to gather with faculty and each at a social afterward.

What are some of the challenges that come with Commencement changing this year?

BB: One of the biggest challenges with this change was how to give the DCU Center a WPI feel and presence. The planning committee has been meeting since May 2023 with DCU staff and the numerous local colleges who use the facility for their ceremonies. Logistics—such as transporting our physical resources, students, faculty, trustees, and volunteers, working with teams that are unfamiliar with our traditions, new technology vendors and bringing our “campus downtown”—has required more discussions and walkthroughs than has happened in the past.

With Reunion activities starting immediately after Commencement, what are the advantages and opportunities for our new graduates?

JP-F: Reunion activities will kick off Friday evening following Commencement so that members of the graduating class have the opportunity to experience Reunion Weekend as alumni for the first time. They and their families will be welcomed by the WPI alumni community and learn firsthand about the global WPI community of which they will then be a part. The Office of Lifetime Engagement and the Alumni Association will have special opportunities for new graduates and their families, such as special campus photo spots throughout Thursday and Friday, a social reception on Friday evening, and other opportunities on Saturday.

What are you most excited about this year?

BB: Each year’s Commencement ceremonies have their unique qualities and the fact that we’ve added new wrinkles and enhancements to our existing programming makes it fun to plan and support. It keeps our attention laser-focused and adds excitement to both new and existing traditions that hopefully will be embraced and supported for many years to come. Working with such a dynamic group of people with extensive knowledge and creativity helps define each and every commencement ceremony year after year. It never gets old! I have personally participated in almost 30 WPI Commencements, and working with [Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs] Greg Snoddy for many of those years has uniquely positioned me to work with Jenn and our Core Commencement Committee as we trailblaze the next several years. There are dozens upon dozens of hard-working, highly qualified staff that nurture the soul of WPI and support our university’s goal of graduating talented and highly motivated students to lead and make a difference wherever life takes them, and we’re blessed to see it from their very first steps at graduation.

JP-F: Commencement 2024 brings a lot of excitement for me on both a personal and professional level. I am honored to be following in the footsteps of Greg Snoddy, after his many years of chairing the Commencement team, and taking this prestigious and milestone event into the future. This year, I will also witness my son cross the stage, as well as my first group of Insight advisees. The Class of 2024 has come a long way. I am thrilled they’ll have their moment in the spotlight and be the ones to usher in this new tradition. Change isn’t always comfortable, but I know we have a great team and supportive community, and I am looking forward to making the DCU part of the experience.

Greg Snoddy: Commencement is the culmination of many years of hard work for our students. Seeing their excitement as they enter a new phase of adventures is what I enjoy most about Commencement. This fact, coupled with a talented and dedicated group of staff, will allow us to transform the DCU Center into an exceptional event of celebration. Working alongside our Core Commencement Committee of Bill, Jennifer, [marketing & digital media program manager] Stacey Happy, [Assistant Director of AV Systems and Services] Dave Taranto, [Assistant Dean of Students] Christine Sharry, [Academic Event Planner] Stacey Burton and [Director of Student Activities] Christine Ziev makes the work of planning our Commencement exercises quite enjoyable!

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