by Lauren Davidson
July 1, 2012
Chuck Zwemer, associate professor of biology, holds a distinguished post at Dickinson: college marshal. Since 2008, he has been responsible for directing key elements of Convocation, Baccalaureate and Commencement, including leading the processions, ensuring that everyone is in the right place at the right time and generally averting disasters.
In this Esquire-style Q-&-A (minus the Qs), he shares memorable moments, lessons learned and insider details.
Leon Fitts [professor emeritus of classical studies] sent me an e-mail saying, “Would you like to do this?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll give it a whirl.” I’ve always thought that the college has done a remarkable job at Commencement services and Convocation. The institutions I’ve been at prior to Dickinson didn’t come close to the tradition or the classiness. I’m thinking of the Ron Burgundy line, “Stay classy, San Diego.”
The robe is a straight-up doctoral robe. The hood is Indiana University’s medical science program. The red collar is derived from, I believe, historical marshal of the college attire, so it sets the marshal apart from the other individuals in the procession.
It was ’97 or ’98 and it was one of those where it was just a torrential downpour. It was not a light rain; it was as if someone threw a swimming pool on us. The speaker was from England, and when it was time for her to speak she got up and said, “This weather is dreadful. You don’t need to hear from me. Congratulations.” And that was it! Professor [Anthony] Pires had come prepared and pulled out an L.L. Bean tarp, keeping him dry but turning Professor [David] Crouch and me into aquatic mammals. It was awesome. It was just pouring—destroying my shoes. And I thought, “You know? A: I’m slipping. B: They’re not waterproof. I’m going with golf shoes next year.”
I arrive around 6:30 a.m., and I usually ride in on a bike. I like to make sure all the postings for the soon-to-be graduates are in place and everything’s alphabetized. I take a shower over in Rector, ’cause I rode in, put on the glad rags, as it were—the “big boy” clothes—and then I go to the President’s House for the brunch with the honorary degree recipients, which is a great affair.
From about 9:30 on I begin telling the president every five minutes, “This is how much time we have left.” He always seems surprised. This watch is set to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and so this is what I use to make the call on starting and stopping.
During my first trial run as marshal when Leon was still here, I was to lead the faculty up through the right. Instead I led them through the tighter, smaller, more choked corridor to the left of the graduating class, and that really slowed things down. That was a bummer.
Till I retire; till I’m kicked out.
Usually Chad [Everts] at the sound booth has a computer with weather radar—we’ve done that every year I’ve been marshal. And we sort of look at things that are coming and make the decision based on that.
Published July 1, 2012