WP Employee Who’s Been Planning Commencement Ceremonies for Years Gets to Turn Her Own Tassel

For the past four years, Michele Martin, a professional services specialist in the Office of Student Development, has been helping to coordinate the logistics for William Paterson University’s Commencement ceremonies.

From contracting vendors for balloons and flowers to ensuring participants are lined up properly heading onto the ceremony floor, Martin plays a pivotal role in our graduates’ Big Day.

“I want them to have a great experience. You’re only going to get this experience once, and it should be the best day for you and your family,” Martin says. “It’s about seven months of a lot of work, and lists, and organization, and planning.”

She subsequently refers to Commencement as her “baby.”

This year, Martin’s baby will look a little different, as she is not only helping to organize the undergraduate ceremony at the Prudential Center, but also participating in it – as a graduate. Martin is earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from WP.

“I get to plan my own party in a way,” she says, smiling. “I think a few students recognize me and know that I work on campus, but none of them really realize: It’s me that been annoying you with emails to RSVP for Commencement and order your regalia,” she continues with a laugh.

Martin will wear a cap and gown, walk across the stage to receive her diploma, and have a seat on the stadium floor with fellow members of the Class of 2024, but she won’t be in her seat for very long. Martin plans to participate as a graduate and help to run the Prudential Center ceremony alongside her supervisor and mentor Francisco Díaz, associate vice president of student development. 

“I could not sit there and watch it all happen around me. I’d be freaking out in the chair, worried about, ‘Is this being done,’ or ‘Is that being done,’” Martin explains. “It’s exciting that my family will be there. They’ll get to celebrate what I’ve done and see what I do; they’ll get to see me running in circles.” 

“Michele came to us with lots of energy, a desire to do her very best, and we—and the students—have benefitted from her timeliness, quick thinking, and abundant dedication to all she does,” Díaz says. “I am so proud of her and her upcoming achievement. It is well deserved.”

Martin earned her associate’s degree from Bergen Community College in 2014, and was hired as an administrative assistant in William Paterson University’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs in 2016. In 2020, she was promoted into her current role in the Office of Student Development, where she supports large events on campus including Homecoming, New Student Orientation, Move-In Day, Senior Sendoff, the Latin Honors ceremonies, and more.

For three years, Martin was enrolled in classes fulltime while working on campus fulltime. She took an academic break during the pandemic and then transitioned to part-time status as a student. She is the first in her biological family to earn a bachelor’s degree, proudly joining her stepsisters.

“You do need a four-year degree; it’s important,” Martin says, noting that she wants to be a good example to William Paterson students. “I’ve always wanted it; I’ve always wanted to finish and be proud of myself. I want to thank my parents, siblings, boyfriend, friends, and coworkers for always being there and encouraging me to get to the finish line.”

After seeing hundreds of creatively decorated graduation caps at the Commencement ceremonies she’s planned, Martin has just decorated her own with a quote from Walt Disney: “The difference in winning and losing is most often not quitting.”

A devout fan of Disney, Martin equates her role in WP’s Commencement ceremonies to the theme parks’ Imagineers: the ones whose behind-the-scenes work brings the parks to life. “The students just show up and it’s magical for them,” she says.