Pomp, circumstance and plenty of planning

Planning graduation ceremonies for more than 9,000 students and their 100,000 friends and family members is no small feat. But Athletics Director Sue Doran and her team have managed it like a well-oiled machine. 

"The athletics department coordinates graduation, but it takes all of CMS to pull this off," said Doran.

Athletics works with CMS Police, Building Services, Counseling Services, Procurement, Communications, Graphic Production and Transportation. Six different venues are used for graduation: Bojangles Coliseum, Ovens Auditorium, Spectrum Center, Halton Arena, McKnight Hall and the Charlotte Convention Center. Doran begins her planning two years in advance by meeting with representatives from each of those venues and reserving times for graduation ceremonies. The graduation schedule goes out in October each year.

Every school has a graduation coordinator and team. The athletics team organizes the graduation ceremonies at the district level and each school plans its individual graduation programs, everything from student speakers to bands.

"As soon as mid-year graduation is over, we start reaching out to our school coordinators," said Doran. "We have a graduation orientation meeting. CMS Police comes in to talk about security. Counseling Services talks about getting grades in. Procurement talks about ordering programs. Graphics talks about the graduation programs and transportation talks about how we are going to transport bands and JROTC groups. We let everyone know how it's all going to come together and start planning."

In April, graduation teams from every school visit the venues and go over every detail. 

"We walk through the flow of each ceremony, make sure everyone is familiar with the venue and make sure we know how everyone is going to march in," said Doran.

In May, Doran and CMSPD meet with the leaders of local police departments to go over graduation security. 

"Our graduations are pretty structured," said Doran. "Students aren't allowed to add anything to their caps and gowns. We wand every guest that comes in. We don't allow balloons and gifts. The goal is a memorable and safe ceremony for all graduates and guests."

There are three and a half hours between every graduation. The week before graduation, all students and graduation coordinators are brought in to rehearse. 

"We want the graduates to know everything they need to about marching, speaking into the microphone and just being comfortable at each venue," said Doran.

This year, the early college school graduations will begin in May. The last graduation is on June 13 at 3:30. Doran said she and her team, "drink a ton of coffee during that time!"

Doran joined CMS 12 years ago as assistant athletic director and has been in the director's position for seven years. Before taking the position, she was a coach. Preparing for graduation is very similar to putting together a team. 

"When graduation comes around, we are a team," she said. "We have individuals in every department that all have a job to do. You stay in touch and encourage each other to win."

Being in charge of graduations has also helped Doran get to know employees all over CMS. 

"If I wasn't involved in graduations, I would never have had the opportunity to get to know so many people. I know the principals much better and it exposes me to a broader spectrum of the professionals we have in this district.

It always ends well, Doran said, because the ceremonies are joyous. 

"It is a very intense couple of weeks once rehearsal starts. There are a lot of happy people coming together to celebrate the work of our students and I get to watch people be happy."