Over the years, Professor of Business and Economics Martha Harris, ’79, has led thousands of Baker University students in the procession to receive their diplomas. At this spring’s commencement ceremony on May 21, Harris took her final walk as the university’s head marshal.
Harris was appointed head marshal by former University President Pat Long in 2010 after serving as a faculty marshal. One of the highlights of these duties was leading graduates across campus through their class gates to the commencement ceremony when it was held inside the George F. Collins Jr. Sports and Convention Center.
“It was a very emotional time, and I was proud to get to be a part of that experience for many hundreds of graduates,” she said. “An especially fun part of that event was that faculty would throw little poppers on the sidewalk at our feet, and we would all laugh and be silly together before we had to be serious inside the ceremony.”
Now that commencement is held at Liston Stadium, the class gate traditions walk takes place on the afternoon of the Grad Grill, when the head marshal and the bagpipers lead the students from their class gate to the gathering at the Alumni Center.
Harris said the head marshal is also asked to lead processions for Convocation, Founders Day, Traditions Night, and other formal events throughout the year, but most of the responsibilities surround commencement.
“I work with the President’s office to help plan the processional and recessional for the ceremony and to determine what the graduate seating looks like,” she said. “I assign appropriate degree groups to the other marshals and instruct the other marshals in their duties. I coordinate with the bagpipers and color guard with regard to the start of the ceremony and lead everyone in—hopefully right on time!”
One of the head marshal’s jobs is carrying a large mace, which was crafted by Professor Emeritus of Art Walt Bailey, ’62.
“It is pretty heavy,” Harris said. “Really, the bigger challenge is that it is taller than me! The mace is made of wood and stained glass that came from Centenary Hall that used to be roughly in the vicinity of the chapel. I don’t worry too much about the weight, but I do try to walk a lot in the couple of weeks right before a ceremony.”
Another highlight for Harris through the years was leading graduates when her daughter Kristin Harris Katzman, ’06, graduated from the School of Nursing.
“I had said I would take the day off and just be ‘Mom,’ but she wanted me to be leading the walk,” she said.
Dr. Sara Crump, professor of psychology and chair of the Department of Psychology, will succeed Harris as the head marshal.
Written by Jenalea Myers, ’08