A quick review of the new SIUC graduation: I think the new ceremony is an improvement.
I attended the ceremony for the colleges of Liberal Arts and Mass Communication and Media Arts. The new ceremony was more of a show (as in the confetti below), but on the whole this was a good thing, I think. Past Liberal Arts graduations, at any rate, were almost entirely formulaic; some years the distinguished alum would give a speech (of varied quality), and a representative of the alumni association would make a quick pitch for that organization, but other than that it was mainly "by the power vested in me" language, followed by the long if joyous parade of grads across the stage. Most years no one made any effort to say anything inspirational. Surely graduates should get someone making an effort to send them off with some words of wisdom. Now they do.
At this year's graduation the alumni association speaker was wisely put ahead of the conferral of degrees (after which point all are rowdy and ready to leave), and Dr. Marsha Ryan gave a nice brief speech. The Chancellor herself gave a little speech intended to impress the graduates with what they'd accomplished, and though it was too much of a paean to SIUC (recycling much of her rhetoric in that line) rather than being centered on the graduates, at least she tried something. Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of Gabby Giffords, gave a nice speech, using telling anecdotes from his naval career to make points to our grads. The stories were better than the lessons, but they were good stories. He was a lousy pilot, told after making his first landing on an aircraft carrier that he might want to consider another line of work: so you too, graduates, ought not to judge your aptitude for a task by your initial performance at it. Returning from the first night's bombing of Iraq during Iraq War I, Kelly detoured 200 miles east into Iran to avoid anti-aircraft fire, didn't tell anyone, and almost got shot down when returning to his ship. Communications skills are important. Kelly closed by speaking of Gabby Gifford's fight to recover from her wounds in an inspirational way.
We got through the whole thing, including two colleges, hooding of PhDs and everyone else walking across stage, in two hours. The main trick was having grads walk from each end of the stage to the middle, where the Chancellor gamely pivoted to shake each hand. This roughly doubled the rate at which degrees were handed out. While PhD students got hooded, and MA students got their departmental affiliation noted (unfortunately one of the masters of ceremonies, there for his marvelous PA voice, did not know how to pronounce the term "linguistics"--which he pronounced as "linguini-istics"), undergrads got only their names, without their degrees or honors mentioned. This is however perhaps the sort of change you need to make to get through this many students this quickly--quickly enough to pay a graduation speaker like Kelly to do "only" three speeches.
Instead of pausing to recognize parents of graduates (round of applause), siblings of graduates (more applause), spouses or spouses to be, etc., etc., the Chancellor tried to do all at once, which came off lamely. Lavish the extra four minutes on doing each group separately: it is always good form to get your audience to applaud themselves.
Thus there were some losses from the older style ceremony, and there were also some false notes. The video presentation that introduced Kelly was over the top--resembling the video extravaganzas one would expect to introduce NBA teams. It began tastelessly with a jarring plunge into news footage from the assassination attempt on his wife. It made me cringe, and while Kelly must be used to this sort of introduction, I couldn't help but wonder if he'd approved the tape. If Kelly needed an introduction (and I doubt he did), someone could have done this verbally, or at least the video could have begun less shamelessly.
I didn't see the students enter the ceremony; my understanding is that they got to march in, which I think is a fine idea. They were not seated by departments, which was too bad, though I don't know if they were able to sit with friends or were forced into some other sort of arrangement. (They were much less rowdy, so I wonder if the organizers put them next to strangers to keep them in line.)
My major gripe is a typically faculty-centered concern. There was essentially no faculty processional; we were introduced as we walked in and took seats at the sides of the arena--front row seats, but not seats down with the participants in the ceremony (the graduates) but with the spectators. I think it would have been worth the extra five minutes to have the faculty walk around the room and down the center aisle or the like--ideally as a part of the student procession, to mark the fact that the students, as degree holders, had now bridged some of the divide between faculty and students. In the current scheme of things, faculty are rather sidelined; we just walk in and take our assigned seats on the sides of the arena. The message is that faculty are part of the audience rather than part of the ceremony. If there isn't room for us in the center, fine--that space belongs to the graduates. But can't we at least be part of the parade?
On the whole, though, there was nothing wrong with this ceremony that a little tinkering can't fix, and it is a definite improvement over the old one.