After 13 years of making the Commencement ceremony run smoothly, University Marshal James Wiggins passes the torch
After 13 years of making the Commencement ceremony run smoothly, University Marshal James Wiggins passes the torchMay 05, 2001Ellen Edgertonebedgert@syr.edu
In all his years as Syracuse University Marshal, James Wiggins hasn’t lost a graduating class yet. Wiggins, professor of religion and former chair of the religion department, joined the faculty of The College of Arts and Sciences in 1963, and is retiring from the University this year. He’ll also leave the position of University Marshal, one that he has held for 13 years. Wiggins began as associate marshal and was named University Marshal in 1988 by the late Chancellor Melvin Eggers. Since then, he has represented SU’s faculty at the University’s annual ceremonial events and in academic processions. In addition to leading the faculty at Commencement, the University Marshal also appears at the Chancellor’s Convocation at the beginning of the school year, and at official University gatherings and special events, such as the Pan Am 103 10th anniversary memorial service in 1998. For Wiggins, Commencement Day begins at 7:30 a.m. Aside from leading the academic procession, the University Marshal’s responsibilities include recruiting faculty and staff to serve as marshals for the ceremony, and coordinating student marshals from each school and college. The marshal also helps ensure that stage and seating arrangements are properly set up on the main platform, and helps keep thousands of graduating students organized as they move down from the stands for the procession on the floor of the Carrier Dome. Mary Jane Nathan, director of the Office of Special Events, says Wiggins’ long experience as University Marshal has been invaluable in keeping Commencement running smoothly and on time. She’s in contact with Wiggins and the other marshals via radio before the ceremony begins, but once it starts, she relies on students and speakers to know their cues–and the University Marshal to make sure that they do. “With such a complex undertaking as Commencement, you depend on someone like Jim–you need someone who’s a field general,” Nathan says. Wiggins says he has good memories of his years of service, but recalls one year when political protests threatened to disrupt Commencement ceremonies. He remembers watching football star Tim Green–who graduated in 1986–escort a protester away by bodily carrying him out of the procession.
In the interest of keeping Commencement a safe and dignified occasion for everyone, graduating students and attendees are requested not to bring potentially dangerous or disruptive items such as sparklers, beach balls or balloons into the Dome. “The Chancellor is always concerned about maintaining proper decorum at Commencement,” Wiggins says. “We have always tried to emphasize to students the inappropriateness of taking items onto the floor of the Dome.” One year, Wiggins instructed floor marshals to confiscate champagne bottles smuggled in by graduating students. “There were several hundred bottles collected, and we put them all in a box outside,” recalls Wiggins. “After the ceremony, the bottles disappeared. Someone must have had a good party.” Upon Wiggins’ retirement, Professor Robert McClure, senior associate dean in The Maxwell School and the current associate University Marshal, will succeed Wiggins. Sandra Hurd, professor and chair of the law and public policy department in the School of Management, has been chosen to serve as associate marshal.