This week, Nathan Griffey will spend most of his time in Humphrey Coliseum.
Over the course of four ceremonies Thursday and Friday, close to 3,000 Mississippi State graduates will walk across the stage, hear their name called and officially complete their degrees.
Between now and then, Griffey said, that stage must be set up, chairs set out, floral arrangements placed, and the television and technical aspects situated.
“We’re doing everything that goes into physically setting up the coliseum,” Griffey said. “It’s definitely stressful this time of year, but once you get to the finish line and finally see the ceremonies, it’s a great feeling.”
Campus is buzzing with other telltale signs of a “normal” spring commencement season. Graduate candidates are picking up regalia from Barnes and Noble. The Bully statue in front of the Colvard Student Union is making its usual scores of appearances a day with seniors on Instagram.
It’s a far cry from spring 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down campus and Griffey was working from his kitchen table at home to plan a virtual commencement.
“This has been the most challenging year I’ve faced as a professional,” Griffey said.
Griffey, 27, works in MSU’s Registrar’s Office as the athletic and military certification and commencement coordinator. He’s one of a handful of staff members on the administrative team to organize commencement, as well as one of more than 20 staff members working hands-on preparing for the ceremonies.
He earned a biology degree from MSU in 2015 with plans to attend medical school, but he instead returned to the Registrar’s Office in 2017, where he was a student worker as an undergraduate.
Last spring’s virtual ceremony went as well as could hope for under the circumstances, Griffey said. He admitted, though, it threw him and his team out of their comfort zone — designing and creating a TV set, writing a script and an order of programming. In the broadcast, as MSU President Mark Keenum spoke, graduates’ names and photos appeared on the screen.
“It was a tough semester for everyone, but we did what we had to do,” Griffey said. “It was very successful. We got a lot of positive feedback.”
By fall 2020, commencement looked a bit more “normal.” Back in The Hump, a combined 1,500 or so graduates walked in one of four in-person ceremonies. Limited guests, all wearing masks, looked on from stands that were restricted to 25-percent capacity.
“We understand how important this day is,” Griffey said. “It’s the ultimate ‘I did it’ moment. The main thing is getting to walk across that stage and shake hands with the president of the university.”
This week, capacity is 50 percent, though graduates are still limited to four guests each and masks are still required in the stands. While those COVID measures will pass away with time, another change for this spring ceremony will be more permanent. Instead of wearing the basic black, graduates will debut MSU’s first-ever custom regalia — a black gown with maroon accents and the university seal emblazoned on the chest. That change has been in the works for about two years, Griffey said, but rolling the new duds out for this particular ceremony seems appropriate.
“Personally, I never thought I’d be excited about regalia, but I’m one of the most excited people going into this,” he said.
By this fall’s commencement, Griffey hopes The Hump is packed and masks won’t be required. As to his own future, the pandemic year is sure to shape his leadership.
“It’s made me a better professional,” he said. “It’s helped me see the bigger picture and focus on what is important. I’m definitely more prepared to deal with my doubts and handle adversity.”