Ensuring Congregations are a day to remember

Staff from across the University help ensure that Congregations are an unforgettable experience – and Kent’s winter ceremonies were no exception.


Congregations are the culmination of a student’s time at university. It is the most important day of their life so far and a testament to all their hard work over a three- or four-year period. That’s why it is so important that the occasion is a success for everyone involved.

Congregations in November 2014 consisted of four ceremonies: One at Rochester Cathedral for 756 students from Medway campus, partner institutions and their guests, and three at Canterbury for 3,700 students from Canterbury, partner institutions and guests.


Volunteer helpers

Overseeing the smooth-running of all the Congregations – a job that starts many months in advance of the actual ceremonies – is Corporate Events Manager Lorna Parrett. She explains that the Corporate Events team in turn relies on a huge number of University staff volunteer helpers.

‘Without staff giving up their time and helping us the congregations would not happen,’ she said. ‘The students are always so overwhelmed to see staff that they have come to know over the years and they are so excited when they see them ushering their parents and family to their seats, or meeting them at the front door.’

“My team and I would like to say a very big thank you to all concerned” – Lorna Parrett

She added: ‘Congregations are a special time and without the regular support of staff helpers, we would not be able to deliver to the standard that our students have come to expect. My team and I would like to say a very big thank you to all concerned.’

A few of the staff involved in the Medway and Canterbury ceremonies in November were:

Welcoming students and their guests

Micky Dalzell

Micky Dalzell (Medway campus administration) helped out with ticket allocation and extra ticket sales at the Medway ceremony. She said: ‘It went a lot better than previous years because it was all done on online for the first time. It saved graduands a lot of time.’

Ben Tipple

“Everyone was very happy – there were lots of pleased and smiling faces” – Ben Tipple

Ben Tipple (Partnership Development Office) was on the south-west door of Canterbury Cathedral – welcoming and answering queries from guests and graduands. ‘We had the usual problems,’ he said, ‘such as people being frustrated by the wait outside. It’s a case of facilitating these and making sure people are treated in the right way and having a nice time. Everyone was very happy – there were lots of pleased and smiling faces and, in the end, that’s all that matters.’

Lisa Tallis

“I have done Congregrations every year since I have been here – it’s nice to see students come in and go out” – Lisa Tallis

Helping with student registration and the procession at Canterbury was Lisa Tallis (Student Records and Examinations). She said: ‘It involved making sure that students were seated correctly and went up at the right time. I have done Congregrations every year since I have been here – it’s nice to see students come in and go out. You also get to meet other members of staff who you usually only speak to on the phone. It’s a nice day to be part of.’ 

Tim Warren

“I love doing it and will volunteer again next year” – Tim Warren

Also helping out with registration was Tim Warren (Kent Hospitality Finance Department). He said: ‘I have done it for a number of years. I like the fact that you see students when they arrive and when they depart – you see the whole process through. I love doing it and will volunteer again next year. It’s nice to give something back, and it’s good to represent Kent Hospitality as well.’


In the Cathedral

Sara Witchell

“It’s a great day for them and their families” – Sara Witchell

Sara Witchell (Student Support, School of Politics and International Relations) was an usher in the Cathedral – and said that, considering it was such a busy ceremony, it went very well. ‘I have been helping with Congregations for about 16 years, since I’ve worked at the University. It’s changed a bit along the way, but I’ve enjoyed seeing the students and their reaction to seeing you. It’s a great day for them and their families and, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for.’

Ensuring that everything within the Cathedral proceeds in an orderly fashion – from fulfilling guests’ expectations to giving students the right certificate – is the role of the Ceremony Marshal. This essential role has been ably filled at Canterbury for many years by Dr Michael Hughes (Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics).

Michael Hughes

Michael commented: ‘I am very much part of the ‘team’ which includes the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, the Deans, the Director of Music, Security, and many helpers from various parts of the University administration. This year, the three ceremonies at Canterbury went very well considering that two of them had over 400 graduating. Although much of the work is done before the day, it is always necessary to keep alert for last-minute changes, updates and some late arrivals. This all has to be achieved seamlessly without anyone noticing. Everyone involved always feels exhausted after a day of ceremonies, but with that great satisfaction of a job well done!’


Other essential roles

Karen Bee

The role of Karen Bee (Academic Division) at Canterbury was also extremely varied – she worked alongside Lorna Parrett to ensure, for example, that academics processed in the right order and sat in the right place within the Cathedral. Karen said: ‘It was a hectic day – these were big ceremonies involving lots of students and, as it’s the end of the year, staff were all very tired. But I think that the day went as well as it does every year.’

Jo Pearsall

Another ‘jack of all trades’ at both Medway and Canterbury ceremonies was Jo Pearsall (Council Secretariat). Jo was helping Sue Wanless, Ceremony Director, in the first ceremony, looking after students in the Cathedral, setting up the dais and assisting Lorna Parrett with background planning.

“I think it’s important for staff across the University to be involved in the ceremonies.” – Jo Pearsall

She said: ‘I think it’s important for staff across the University to be involved in the ceremonies. There are many different aspects: from looking after all the guests coming in, to putting on a good show, getting all the students through in right order, with the right certificates, looking after academic staff and guests, and organising the music. It’s easy to think it just happens and nothing changes. It does change every year and it’s a mammoth undertaking. It’s always exhausting!’

The next University Congregations take place in July 2015. Watch out for an all-staff email in end of April/May telling how you can sign-up to get involved!