My Melbourne with Alexandra Oke

December 12 / 101

What is your unit?

Graduations Office, Assessment and Graduations, Enrolment Management Services.

What is your job title?

Senior Graduations Officer.

How long have you been with the University of Melbourne?

I've been a professional staff member for eight years (although I graduated with my Bachelors Degree here in 1991).

How did you come to work at the University?

I applied for 'the Melbourne job' when it came up. I didn't get the job then, but a few months later the position reopened and the department contacted me to see if I was still interested. I think I waited at least half a second before I said "yes!". I arrived in late November 2004 and ran my first graduation ceremony about 10 days later. It was the ultimate on-the-job training. I still haven't had my new staff induction.

Describe your typical day.

I'll go through emails and check in with my team. After that, I'll be following whatever work plan is
in place at that time of the year and directing staff efforts in the office. My day tends to be driven
by what needs to happen next.
In the lead-up to a ceremony round, the Graduations Office is incredibly busy. I'll field queries from around the University and externally, and provide advice, lists, contacts, bulk communications - whatever is needed to keep us moving onwards. 

Our office deals primarily with the graduands, management of the ceremonies and producing the
programs and testamurs. We have ceremonies in March, May, August and December, so we rarely have much down time in the office.

What is it about your job that holds your interest or is particularly satisfying?

Putting all the elements in place so everyone has a good ceremony and feels welcome, included and celebrated is one of the major pay-offs of the job. If I hear that a ceremony has gone "like clockwork" and see a lot of smiling faces before and after a ceremony, then that's very satisfying. The graduands tend to be very bouncy before a ceremony, so watching them swish around in their robes is fun.

The continual changes to graduations at the University, and working out how each change will be incorporated certainly keeps me engaged. I also love working with and building up the teams of people who come and work at the ceremonies. They all eventually fall under the spell and become very committed to what we are trying to achieve. Most of the really good innovations we use in ceremonies have come directly from ceremony staff, and I've even had to implement a rule that you don't get to work your own graduation ceremony!

And finally, I'm continually grateful that, as graduations is a truly cross-University event. In a single day, I can deal with staff at 13MELB, any of the faculties and schools, Property and Campus Services, Protocol and Events, Transition and Orientation, Marketing and Melbourne Students and Learning. The sheer goodwill and hard work from each of these units to put everything in place for the ceremonies never seems to waver.

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

"Do we want to just check that list again?" There's no room for fuzziness in graduations - people are eligible or they're not, they're in the right seat or they're not, or they have the right certificate or they don't. I much prefer this to "don't sweat the small stuff" or "just breathe" - preparation and checking and re-checking are hard-wired into my brain.

What is something about yourself that most of your colleagues wouldn't know?

Actually my secret has come out this year - I'm a trained singer, and in 2012 I enrolled in the Graduate Diploma of Music in classical voice part time at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (thanks to the wonderful support of my colleagues). I've sung opera with a fat-positive burlesque troupe this year as well. I used to row for Richmond Rowing Club and once modelled for a life-drawing class (mostly so I could bring it up at cocktail parties). 

Where do you buy your coffee on campus?

From the lovely folks at Pronto Pizza. I also get lunch from them. And, as I get busier, breakfast
and sometimes dinner as well.

What do you like most about the University?

I think the campus is a gorgeous place to work - great facilities, the grounds are beautiful, and I like the fascinating mix of architectural styles. The people I get to work and study with are a fascinating mix as well - it's a very vibrant community and there's always something going on. The University also has a lot of extraordinary people - both the celebrated and the quieter achievers - attached to the institution. 
I got to act like a science fangirl when I met Nobel Laureate Professor Barry Marshall when he came to speak at his daughter's graduation. He was incredibly nice about it, and complimented our team on how well he thought ceremony went - but mostly he was just a proud dad, which was even better. Some things are universal - proud parents at graduation is one of them!

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