Orchestrating the inauguration
Cully Shaw, director of the University's Office of Special Events,
is comfortable with details, lots of small but important details.
She and her staff of 10 can tell you, for example, how many pounds
of cubed cheese a caterer considers capable of consumption by
a crowd of 5,000 (answer: 550 lbs.). They know where to
order maroon and white M&Ms. And they can handle a round of inaugural
invitations complex enough to require printing (and keeping track
of) 10 different response cards. Those invitations covered what
Shaw calls a "kaleidoscope" of inaugural festivities, beginning
with a September 13 civic dinner at Navy Pier and culminating
almost two months later with the November 2 installation. The
Rockefeller Chapel ceremony formed the centerpiece of 24 hours
of "special events," including a November 1 faculty-trustee dinner
for 987, a pre-installation lunch for nearly 400, and a post-installation
party for thousands.
Armed with bulging three-ring binders, spreadsheets,
cell phones, and an unshakable store of academic and secular etiquette,
Shaw and her staff know stuff the rest of us don't. I looked at
the huge peaked-roof white tent erected on the Midway for a post-inaugural
campus party and thought of a medieval jousting tournament. Shaw
agreed, then explained the purpose behind the pavilon's peaks:
the design distributes the tent's weight in a way that requires
fewer interior poles-improving the traffic flow for caterers,
entertainers, and guests.
Her office's planning for the inauguration of Don
Michael Randel as the institution's 12th president began, says
Shaw, the day that the institution's 11th president, Hugo F. Sonnenschein,
announced his resignation: "We pulled the files from the last
time and started making time lines." Early in that planning, the
scope of the project became clear: "We knew that we wanted to
create a series of events that would be meaningful for each of
the University's different communities."
A love of meaning, as much as a gift for organization,
is what keeps Shaw going in the countdown periods before major
University events, when she and the rest of her staff routinely
put in 14-hour days.
"One of the first events I worked on at the University,"
recalls Shaw, who started in special events 13 years ago, "was
a graduation convocation. After the ceremony, I went to the party
in Ida Noyes. Sitting on a bench was a newly made graduate, still
in his robes, his father sitting next to him. His father was reading
the diploma, and the look on the father's face solidified for
me the meaning of the University of Chicago-why we mark momentous
She also thrills to the "pageantry" of the academic
procession: "It ties us to our history and to academic institutions
all over the world." That feeling of a shared academic past makes
the challenges of convocations-whether keeping 800 diplomas and
800 graduates in marching order or running a convocation when
the special guest is President Clinton and his Secret Service
cast of thousands-rewarding. "I'm still awed by the University,
and I feel honored to be a part of it and its traditions."
MASTHEAD NEWS: With this issue, Sharla A. Stewart joins the Magazine
as an associate editor. A 1994 graduate of Grinnell College, Sharla
has worked for six years as an editor at Emory University, most
recently as senior associate editor of Emory Magazine.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, she's happy to be returning to the
Midwest. We're happy that she'll be editing "Investigations" and
writing features for us. --M.R.Y