Juan Flores and Meaghan King


Meaghan King and Juan Flores.

Meaghan King and Juan Flores (who also happen to be a couple outside of work) 

Flores: Normally, Meaghan and I are in charge of the library, where our job involves taking out the trash, cleaning all the tables, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, dusting, changing light bulbs—a little bit of everything. Then, the week before Commencement, we get pulled in to help prepare the dorms for families and do other things. At that point [the custodial staff] gets broken up into teams. They give us six to 10 student workers, and we have to supervise them and show them how to clean the rooms. We all work together as a group, along with two extra custodians who will help us take care of the bathrooms. These teams are under our leadership for two weeks to get the dorms ready for Commencement and Reunion. Each group has two dorms.

King: If you’re a leader of a cleaning group, you’re responsible for making sure everything gets finished. So we are double-checking, triple-checking what’s done throughout the day. It’s long, long hours.

Flores: We’re very fortunate that we have had some great new hires recently as well as a solid group of custodians who have been here for at least 10 to 20 years, who have been through it all. If we didn’t have them, I don’t know where we’d be. It’s not an easy task to commit to those long days when people have families, kids and lives outside of work, and it takes a toll on the body. This year, though, Meaghan’s group is lucky, because she has another custodian: her dog.

King: Her name is Rosie, and she’s a cattle dog mix. She’s kind of like our mascot, even though she tends to sleep on the job. 

Flores: Unlike Rosie, the rest of us don’t get a lot of sleep! In addition to cleaning, we wax the floors in any rooms, common areas or hallways that need it, and report any damages in the dorms. We are also responsible for a lot of Commencement-related setups and takedowns on campus: all the chairs, the stage decorations. And during Commencement, the custodial shop and grounds department are also responsible for roping the path the graduates walk into the ceremony. It’s nice. We recognize a lot of faces. 

King: Even though it’s busy and tiring, I like the change of pace and the chance to see the whole custodial shop come together. During the school year, some people stay in their buildings, so you don’t see them really at all. But I like when we all come together–we have a really great group. There’s a handful of us who don’t work in a dorm, which means we have limited conversations with students, and it’s nice to be able to interact with them too. 

Flores: When I worked in a dorm before I came to Frost Library, I would see and talk to students on a regular basis. It’s a different feeling at the library—it’s very quiet, isolated. So in the two weeks at the end of the spring semester, we are able to experience something we don’t experience during the year. I’ll admit that I don't look forward to Commencement, just because it means super long days. But I like the students and people I work with, and after two weeks go by and things are done, I’m like, “wow, we did it again.” Somehow we always get it done. 

Emily Ferraro

Associate Registrar

Emily Ferraro with her dog Zuko

Zuko and Emily Ferraro

As it gets closer to Commencement, we are keeping tabs on everyone in that class year to make sure that they’re close to their graduation requirements. We work with the Office of Student Affairs, the class deans and advisors to constantly monitor and make sure that those students are moving in the right path. Study abroad and transfer records, students who are submitting theses, departments that are nominating them for honors—we’re the holders of all of that information. Then we put it together with a nice bow and present it to the faculty and the trustees to be voted upon.

This year, finals are over May 17, the seniors’ grades are submitted on May 20 and Commencement is on May 26. So, in those four business days before May 26, you’re expected to process the grades, determine the GPAs which help determine the Latin honors, make sure that the theses are compiled, that student honors and majors are all in place for the Commencement program. We work with so many to make this happen, especially CASE (Amherst’s Conferences and Special Events office). I don’t think people understand how much work goes into the program they hold in their hands that day. I’ve worked in much larger schools, and the personal touch is not really there. Here, I read through that list of 500-something graduates, I can’t even count how many times, and with multiple people. 

It’s a tough week. We are expected to be on later and later in the nights and the weekends. The only way I cope that week is to bring my dog to the office, and take him out for walks. His name is Zuko, for Danny Zuko in Grease, and I call him a “land orca,” because he’s a big black-and-white mutt, 90 pounds of love. He helps me get my head out of the really tough conversations with students and their families that week. I try to create a calm environment and say, “Hey, you didn’t pass that class, but here’s what your resources are.” A student might take a summer class at UMass or their local university. I tell them, “It’s not the end of the world. You’re still going to walk at Commencement.” I was one of those students: In my senior year, I had a death in the family weeks before I was to graduate.

And then I always volunteer at Commencement, because it makes all that I do during the year feel real. At the gym that morning, I help line up the students, in alphabetical order, to walk to their seats. It’s a very quiet, calm thing that evolves into absolute chaos, and it’s really electric and fun. We make sure their regalia, caps and everything is in place. We’ve got all the emergency bobby pins and safety pins that one could need. Everybody’s starting to connect with one another, seeing their friends. About an hour in, you can see that it hits them, “Oh, this is really happening.” It’s a sweet honor to be able to volunteer. I love it.

Greg Daniel Smith

Landscape Technician

Greg Daniel Smith

Greg Daniel Smith

When spring comes, it’s time to make campus green again—but we also have to keep it manicured and nice. We clean out beds that have lingering dead leaves and trim tree branches. I have a background in decorative annual flower decoration, and we make up the pots, too. Then you have to reseed the grass early enough that it’s going to take root and be good-looking by the time we get to Commencement. Along with the spring comes warm weather, and then everything’s growing. So now we have to tame it back. You both build up the grass and keep it down, week after week.

We have these large ride-on tractor track mowers that cut a 10-foot swath, a mid-range mower with a 5-foot span and a push mower for the smaller spots, 2 feet across. There are 120 acres on campus, but about half are in the Wildlife Sanctuary and the athletic fields, so we mow and trim about 60 acres. There’s a lot of challenging areas that are hilly or awkward, like the Greenway, where you can’t use a riding mower. Another challenge is the weather. Rain makes it so you can’t be out there cutting the grass—it also makes the grass grow faster. If you get a rainy few weeks, it can really be a setback. You also have to stop work, sometimes, when hundreds upon hundreds of students leave class and are migrating this way and that across the grass. 

We also help set out all the chairs and tables: 5,000 chairs on the main quad, 1,800 under the tent at Val. It’s not very glamorous, but it’s necessary, and a massive job that requires cooperation from all the different groups on campus. We measure the exact distance between the tables. The ground outside Val is uneven, so the carpenters put stuff under the table legs.

What I find fascinating is the cycle of working at a college. You feel the energy of the culmination of the semester. Because not only is it exciting, but you’re also forced to really step up and do a lot of work. That’s the hardest part of this time of year: the hours, working six or seven days a week. I’m a singer-songwriter and guitarist, and I play in several bands. One of them, The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, played a campus gig, and I’ve learned not to book shows in May. For Commencement, you’re really part of an organism that’s putting that all together. And that’s satisfying. You’re proud. It’s been another successful school year—and there’s a new batch of students off into the world to do what’s next.