Social media unites graduates across campus


Bruce Floyd, the University of Florida's social media specialist, explains how he coordinates social media during graduation in a press box at the O'Connell Center on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

(Elizabeth Hamilton/Correspondent)
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 6:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 6:42 p.m.

Each spring, UF social media specialist Bruce Floyd is faced with the challenge of making the commencement ceremonies more exciting and interactive than the previous year.

It's up to Floyd and multimedia specialist Sistine Gurrey to photograph and videotape graduates and their friends and families swarming the O'Connell Center for the live feed, monitor each ceremony's scripts to announce honored guests and speakers, and scan various social media for the best tweets and comments to throw up on giant TV screens around the arena.

“We are helping students connect digitally,” Floyd said.

From his perch in the old press box high above the floor of the O'Connell Center, Floyd will coordinate social media coverage this weekend while Gurrey roves around the crowd in a graduation gown, feeding Floyd a continuous stream of photos and video to post online.

“This perch gives us a bird's-eye view of everything going on,” Floyd said Tuesday during a dry run as he took his “office” out of his backpack: a laptop loaded up with the Sproutsocial platform.

Floyd plans to arrive early Friday to set up for that afternoon's ceremony, packed with bottled water and granola bars for the weekend-long siege.

“It's kind of like going camping,” he said.

More than 9,000 students have applied to receive degrees this spring, and 7,300 have already ordered or picked up their caps and gowns, said Donna Stricker, director of Presidential Events in the Office of the President.

That's 3,276 regalia orders for the four bachelor degree ceremonies, another 1,039 regalia for the doctoral and master ceremonies, 2,117 orders for individual college ceremonies and another 960 orders for professional degree ceremonies.

Each student who walks up to the stage to receive a diploma will be greeted by the same person who has been guiding Gator graduates across the stage for the past decade, Ronald Spitznagel, the chief marshal of commencement.

Spitznagel, an associate professor emeritus in the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, has participated in every graduation ceremony since he joined the faculty in 1988 after receiving a doctorate of education from Auburn University.

He carries the mace ahead of the president during the processional leading to the stage. He is the first to address the family and friends who have gathered for this big life moment. He is the first to greet the graduates as they step onto the stage. His is the first hand they shake.

People entering the O'Connell Center will have their bags checked for anything illegal or prohibited, said Lt. William Gainey, special services coordinator for the University of Florida Police Department. Also, UPD will use bomb-sniffing dogs to conduct a sweep of the building prior to each major event, he said.

Gainey also said that additional security measures are being taken, but he would not say specifically what they were because such information could be used against the university by people wishing to cause harm.

“I can say that the UPD takes event security and threat assessment planning very serious,” Gainey said. “A lot of time and effort goes into ensuring we have a safe and secure environment for all activities held on campus.”

To drum up excitement leading up to the big weekend, Floyd and Gurrey have put together several videos that can be viewed on Youtube.

They've also got a hashtag account running on Twitter, #UFGRADS. Students have been posting messages, photos of themselves in their caps and gowns, and shoutouts to their favorite professors.

“So sad this is my last day in Kateries class, she was my favorite teacher,” Jason Raimondi tweeted.

Lindsey Cousineau posted: “Last study grind ever!”

Erica George was so excited to have her braces off that she posted a picture on Instagram showing off her smile, “ready for graduation.”

UF also has made arrangements with TAGBOARD, which pulls various references from the students using the #UFGRAD hashtag.

“It's a good opportunity to be involved in the social media conversation without setting up a Twitter account,” Floyd said. “And it makes it dead simple for me to respond to each person without going into each platform.”

Floyd pulls up on his laptop screen a student who posted a picture of herself in her robe and mortarboard, and types in a message: “Congratulations, #UFGRAD.”

This year, they are trying out an app for iPhone and Android called Vyclone, which syncs up multiple video or photo feeds of the same subject taken simultaneously by different people from their own mobile devices. Vyclone takes all those shots, edits them into one file so that everyone can share the same experience, Floyd said.

Floyd said he never tires of graduation.

“Our whole point is to let the students know we are excited for them. It's our Super Bowl,” Floyd said. “Our responsibility is to keep moving forward and make it more interactive. I feel obligated to make my presentation of their event special.”

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