In the weeks before Commencement this year, a few staffers talked to us about the work they do behind the scenes to ensure that the grounds are beautiful, the dorms spotless, the lampposts shiny and the markets well-stocked.

Roberto Melendez

Interior Finishes Generalist

I work as a painter, but we do a lot more than painting. And one of the big things we do for Commencement is we move a lot of chairs. There will be about 4,700 chairs on the main quad, and another 3,000 in the indoor rain location. We place the carpet on the stage, set up the chairs on the stage and put the carpet on both ramps. The layout changes every year, but that makes our job very fun and interesting, because everybody’s pitching in. The fun part of all this is that we are able to work with everybody on campus. We also put up the flags [representing the home countries of the graduates].

Right now I am scraping, sanding and priming lampposts, and then we’ll be doing a beautiful, glossy black finish, so they look nice for Commencement. The handrails on campus are also part of this project. And it’s my job to check the podiums, to make sure there are no scratches, that the finish is completely done. One year, the podium broke the night before the ceremony. I got a phone call from Heidi [Kellogg, supervisor of event support services] at 10 or 11 at night. Heidi is still working at that time. I said, “Heidi, don’t worry; I’ll be in at 4 in the morning.” And I came in at 4 in the morning, put together the podium, sanded it down, re-stained it. That day there was a bit of stress, but for the most part it’s fun. It’s a lot of happiness.

I started here as a custodian, and as a custodian, you become a bit closer to some students you see on a regular basis. On graduation, out of the blue, they come and give you a hug. Those moments are priceless. You feel like all the work you’ve done, all those little bits of stress to deliver that event, that they were worth it. That is the best part for me.

Rosa Gomes

Manager of Dining Services and Retail Operations

My team—the retail team—staffs the Science Center Café throughout Commencement weekend for guests who might want to grab something to eat. On Saturday, we also have the Mammoth Market open, and we’ll be out on campus with the new trailer—the Wheely Mammoth—selling Amherst merch, with a tent attached to the trailer. On Sunday, the day of Commencement, we will be outside the library in a food tent with snacks, coffee, juice and muffins. Our team also backs up the big family luncheons that weekend.

So we do our part with the outlets and on the retail side, and then, as much as we can, our team helps the Dining Services team from Val. I have the privilege of working with fabulous people across campus. The dining team across all the venues—they’re committed to doing their best for the community.

Working on Commencement is the best feeling ever. We get to know students during the year—some by sight, others we hire and work with every day. They’re part of our campus family. To see them at Commencement and to see how proud their families are—it doesn’t matter how many hours we work, it’s absolutely fabulous to be here for the weekend, to make sure I’ve bought every piece of merchandise that parents could want to buy as a souvenir. It’s just a really happy weekend. I’m blessed.

Karl Longto


I do the window boxes in front of the stage. They’re planted and growing at the shop right now. Rachael [Peters, also a gardener] and I do all the flowers on campus. You’ll see a bunch of whiskey barrels around—we plant those up. Any spot where you see flowers, that’s what we’ve done. And we have backup containers of flowers, too.

For the window boxes, we always put in ivy. Some of the flowers are purple and white, obviously. We have petunias, scaevolas, purple fans, lobelias, impatiens; there are ferns, begonias and wandering dudes. Rachael and I have taken cuttings and made more and more: We’re in our third year of using the ferns, and this will be our second season with the wandering dudes. We’ve made more cuttings than we know what to do with. If we can winter something over and reuse it, we’re going to do that, too.

No two boxes are the same. When families arrive, they should have the best show they can get. And I think we put on a pretty good show for them.

Mark Uchneat

Assistant Supervisor of Grounds

Commencement prep begins when it stops snowing—or at least when we think it’s stopped snowing. That’s when we start fixing the damage from the winter and lining up contractors to do mulching and seeding. Every year, there is so much that needs to be sodded. That’s one of the behind-the-scenes things we do. What you see is the beautiful grass.

Then there’s the setup. I’m in charge of the tables and chairs on Val quad, and we help set up the chairs for the ceremony on the main quad and in the rain location.

We prepare for anything that could happen. We go through the main quad with a tree guy to look for dead branches, for anything out of place. We get a street sweeper. On the morning of Commencement, we clean off the steps and sidewalks and wipe down the chairs.

And that’s just the grounds piece of it. Our gears work well with the other gears on campus. It’s definitely a time when everybody works together. Seeing families enjoy the moment is the best part for me. It’s a lot of happiness. Seniors we’ve worked with through the years are excited to introduce their parents to us. We take a lot of pride in making the grounds look nice for the families—that’s why we’re here

Jeremy Gonzalez 
Liz Pereira

Custodial Supervisors

Gonzalez: We oversee 80 or 90 percent of the buildings on campus, including all of the residence halls and academic/administrative buildings. We schedule custodians to be in these different places, and we go and see their work.

Pereira: I supervise 23 people; Jeremy supervises 22.

Gonzalez: Another part of our job is to help Heidi [Kellogg] and her team set up for Commencement.

Pereira: For Commencement, our role is to house families of the graduating seniors in about 800 dorm rooms. We divide into groups, and some custodians become group leaders who oversee other custodians and student workers. This year we have 11 groups. We treat the rooms like a hotel: We make the beds, and we offer soap, cups, napkins, hangers and towels—anything someone would need to stay for those nights. We clean from top to bottom: carpets, windows, everything. We start organizing these groups around January.

Gonzalez: We get the custodians ready for all the overtime they’ll have to work—from 4 in the morning until late in the evening.

Pereira: When parents arrive, we have a team that stays until 10 p.m. So we work from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., usually six custodians and one supervisor. Commencement morning, we go through every dorm that the parents and seniors have stayed in, and then, around 7 a.m., we all meet at the quad to set up the stage, clean the chairs, put out water and programs.

Gonzalez: For me it’s a good time. I like that it gets me out of my normal schedule. At the end you’re definitely tired, but it’s exciting to see the students graduate. I like knowing that we’re part of it.

Pereira: Same here. This is going to be my 10th Commencement: I started at Amherst on Commencement day. It’s rewarding to work as a group to get something done for the students. I think our staff feels the same way. They give 100 percent to get these buildings completely ready.

Photographs by Jesse Gwilliam