Tod Donley, a public functions supervisor working for Facilities and Services, coordinates the myriad graduation ceremonies conducted annually on the Urbana campus. He’s been a UI employee for 24 years, though he’s been in his current position for just two. Last year at this time, his department was responsible for setting up 400 campus events.
WHAT WAS YOUR WORK EXPERIENCE BEFORE YOU WERE PROMOTED LAST YEAR?
I started as a building services worker and I worked the night shift for 16 years. Before I came here I was in the Navy for four years. I’m originally from Tolono, Ill., and was fortunate enough to get a job here and work my way up. I never thought I’d get to this level (of management) – now the BSWs work for me.
WHAT SPECIAL SKILLS DOES YOUR JOB REQUIRE?
After working here so long I kind of thought I knew it all; then I came to this position. It’s challenging, but it’s more customer service than anything. A lot of people will call us when they have an event and they don’t even know what they need. Once you see it from this point of view, it’s totally different. You’re responding if something goes wrong. Problem-solving is a big thing here.
HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU IN COMMENCEMENT AND CONVOCATION ACTIVITIES?
The main commencement is held at Assembly Hall, but we don’t have a lot to do with that. We do the convocations for the smaller colleges, where basically, we’re in charge of the whole nine yards. We’ll have nine convocation events to coordinate in two days, the two biggest being at Huff Gymnasium and Smith Memorial Hall. I deal with a coordinator one-on-one at each college. I try to find what their needs are – from how they want the stage set up to sound and lighting. It’s actually just a matter of lining it up and staging it. I relay that information to my moving-crew foreman, Paul Jensen.
OUTSIDE OF GRADUATION, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE USUAL EVENTS YOU COORDINATE?
Right now there are a lot of weddings at Foellinger Auditorium. They’ll contact me for chairs or just about anything they’re going to need. I try to tell them what they’re going to need and if they’ve forgotten any details. Homecoming is always challenging – actually, anything to do with the football team that time of year.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MORE UNUSUAL EVENTS?
There was an event on campus just last week that had camel rides. They called here to find out whether it was a good idea or not. I don’t know if we’ve had to go clean up behind a camel before, but luckily they policed the area themselves. You can get some inquiries about some pretty strange stuff.
HOW MANY DIFFERENT DIVISIONS OF F&S ARE LIKELY INVOLVED WITH A SINGLE EVENT?
I’m in charge of setting up electricians, though we call them sound techs. Grounds employees help us with various things and, of course, custodial employees do the cleanup. This time of year, April or May or once the weather gets better, everyone wants to have outdoor events. I’m basically dealing with events across the whole campus, from the Chancellor’s Office to student groups.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE PUTTING TOGETHER THE CONVOCATION CEREMONIES LAST YEAR? WERE THERE ANY GAFFES OR MISTAKES?
Over at Huff (which seats 4,000) we had the stage set up and had reserved 700 seats on the floor for the students. As the graduates were being seated, all of a sudden we realized there were 18 chairs left and still 50 students because someone had miscounted. The music was playing and the parents and deans and professors were looking. We just started setting up a bunch of extra chairs as quickly as we could. This year is the first I’m on my own. I think I’m ready, but you think about stuff like that in the back of your mind. You just have to improvise sometimes; thank goodness we had extra chairs there. If everything’s running smoothly at one event, I’ll go over and check on the other to make sure it’s running smoothly there too.
WHY IS PUTTING TOGETHER A GOOD GRADUATION CEREMONY IMPORTANT?
Going to the University of Illinois is a big investment. To me, it reflects on us that we care enough to want it to go as smoothly as possible. Even if it’s not the fanciest building on campus, it’s still important to the students and parents. To hear a parent shout out to their kid, it can kind of get to you.