WILKES-BARRE — It’s that time of year — graduation time.
Colleges and universities are holding their commencements and for the most part, they are held without incident and usually without much notice from the non-graduating families of the area.
But to those families with graduates, these are the times of pride.
So when your son, daughter, granddaughter, grandson is the one walking to center stage to receive his or her diploma, you want it to be perfect.
And thanks to people like Judy Wienckoski at Wilkes University, disappointment is never an option.
I got to meet Judy in her office in Passan Hall this week. She was knee-deep in preparations — checking her lists and checking them 10 times to be sure everything is, well, perfect.
Judy has been at Wilkes for some 33 years — the last 22 she has handled all graduation ceremonies. She tells me there are four commencements per year at Wilkes — one in September, one in January and two in May. Over those 22 years, we estimated that she has “robed” approximately 33,000 Wilkes graduates.
As we talked, I could get a sense that Judy was giving me some time — valuable time — to answer my questions and to explain all that she does. I soon realized that, since we already had an extensive chat on the phone the day before, it would be in my best interests to cut this face-to-face interview as short as possible.
Judy had work to do — a lot of work.
Some of the “to-do” things on Judy’s list include caps and gowns, of course, and everything from making sure there are enough chairs set up, flowers are ordered, the champagne brunch is set, the dinner dance details are complete, a picnic is both fun and nourishing, all of the president’s receptions are mapped out, all gowns are checked — Judy even presses them — all faculty regalia is ready, the commencement programs are not just done, but complete and accurate, the music is set and, trust me, much, much more.
“There’s so much to do, I can’t think of all of it,” she said. “But everything will be pretty squared away before commencement begins.”
And as many Wilkes graduates will attest, if anything is forgotten, Judy will be there with the needed item or items.
“Everything must be perfect and on time,” she said. “Timing is everything.”
Judy said sometimes she has to draw the line and say no. Like the time a graduate wanted to propose to his girlfriend on stage during commencement, or the time a request came in for an over-stuffed chair for a graduate’s grandmother.
She said one graduate addressed the class in rap style.
“Actually, that was pretty cool,” Judy said.
Judy’s work is nearly year-round. She credited her co-workers and the administration for supporting her.
“The graduates are so excited every year, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.
Judy said she has a good work ethic. I can tell you she is correct on that point. She said she always gives 120 percent.
“An embarrassment is a mistake,” she said.
By the way, Judy loves her job so much, she won’t even discuss retirement.
“I’m always there for the students,” she said.
I asked Judy what her official title was at Wilkes. She said “assistant.” Assistant to what? She didn’t answer. I’m guessing she is assistant to just about everything there, especially when it comes to commencements.
Some people call graduation day organized chaos. It may be chaotic for the graduates and their families, but for Judy Wienckoski, trust me, it’s all organized.