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 Judi Wienckoski at Wilkes University, disappointment is never an option.
I got to meet Judi 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.
JudI 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 Judi 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.
Judi had work to do — a lot of work.
Some of the “to-do” things on Judi’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 — Judi 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, Judi will be there with the needed item or items.
“Everything must be perfect and on time,” she said. “Timing is everything.”
Judi 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,” Judi said.
Judi’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.
Judi 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, Judi loves her job so much, she won’t even discuss retirement.
“I’m always there for the students,” she said.
I asked JudI 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 Judi Wienckoski, trust me, it’s all organized.