Q&A with Anna Gandolfi
Even though she's a staff member, Anna Gandolfi looks forward to commencement every year. And she starts thinking about it way before June. That's because she helps to plan the numerous graduation ceremonies. In addition to her duties as the business officer at John Muir College, she took on the additional commencement coordination duties in 2008 when the Council of Provosts appointed her to the position. She has worked at UC San Diego for more than two decades and was named a UC San Diego Exemplary Employee of the Year in 2006. She has also served as Chair of the Staff Association. In this interview, she talks about the challenges and fun of coordinating so many commencement ceremonies, her volunteer work and what she's learned about UC San Diego over the years.
What is it like to coordinate so many commencement ceremonies?
Gandolfi: It's a practice in memory games. Each year when we plan, I have to picture myself in that particular ceremony to remember what happened the year before, from the planning to the procession. It's energizing for me to look forward to watching all the students walk during the processional. They are so excited and hopeful of the future.
What are the actual commencement days like for you?
Gandolfi: On the Saturday and Sunday commencement days, there are four ceremonies each day with an hour-and-a-half break between them. I'm here with my production staff at 5 a.m. to prepare the RIMAC field and stage for the first ceremony at 8 a.m. We also work with parents and guests to coordinate parking and transportation, and make sure people find their way to the field and that they are comfortable.
Everything moves at a fast pace until five minutes before each ceremony, when the students start to process. Then the production staff gets to relax for a little while during the event, but we remain alert for any issues that need to be addressed. After the first ceremony, we quickly set up for the next ceremony; the production staff is putting up flags, moving boxes and helping the students process. The whole process repeats itself four times.
How have UC San Diego's commencement ceremonies changed over the years? What do you think of the addition of the All Campus Graduation Celebration?
Gandolfi: The undergraduate ceremonies have gone from single ceremonies located in various places around campus to six ceremonies held at the same facility at different times during the course of a weekend. We also have moved to "ticketed" ceremonies for each college.
The All Campus Graduation Celebration is a new tradition which allows students to celebrate the completion of college with friends across the campus. It's much more casual and is really a celebration of their accomplishments, whereas the commencement ceremonies are more formal.
When you were Chair of the Staff Association, what did you learn about the university and the UC system? Which achievement makes you the most proud?
Gandolfi: I was able to see how the other campuses worked—together and not-so together. I realized that UC San Diego is very much ahead of the other campuses in terms of technology and, more important, in our staff's relations with our administration. We have so much support from Chancellor Fox. It's easy to take that for granted until we hear how relations between staff and administration are strained at other campuses.
The achievement I'm most proud of is the Celebrate the Night event. A staff member from Facilities brought to our attention that the nighttime staff cannot or do not attend the All Staff Picnic in August. There are about 200 staff who keep the university running while we're all home asleep. We took the idea of a free dinner held at night, usually after 10 p.m., to the Chancellor and Steve Relyea, who was our advisor at the time. Both supported the idea and offered funding. Giving our night staff a dinner once a year makes me feel good and gives us a chance to say "thank you" to them.
As a Volunteer50 participant, where have you volunteered and why is it important to you?
Gandolfi: I volunteer about 18 hours a month at the United Service Organizations (USO) Council of San Diego at the San Diego International Airport. When my son joined the Air Force last year, I realized I needed something to fill in my empty-nest time. Joining the USO allowed me to help men and women in the military, the same way someone else is able to help my son when he is at a USO in another city. Working at the USO helps me focus on others, which is the reason I volunteer for anything. I've volunteered for youth sports, churches, military functions, Moores UCSD Cancer Center, and a lot of UC San Diego functions. Volunteering my time, along with any knowledge or organizational skills I have, is one of the most important things I can do for my community—and the most fulfilling.
Why is it important to you to be an active and involved member of the UC San Diego community?
Gandolfi: It's important to me to show other staff that it's not just a job here—that each of us can make this campus a better place by being involved.
Favorite part of commencement:
Favorite place at UC San Diego:
Walking around watching all the action
Favorite place on Earth:
Wherever my boys are
Favorite way to spend $10:
At a bookstore, drinking a Chai Latte
Taking day trips with my husband
Favorite words to live by:
It's not what you say, but how you say it.