The Tough and Tedious Task of Creating the Stage For Graduates to Walk On

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Getting to graduation day takes long hours.

"I'll be getting home at 11:30 p.m. and have to be back here at 6-6:30 a.m.," said Matt Miller.

Last-minute cramming and short breaks are common.

"I'll probably be eating junk food just to get me through. It's crazy, but it's fun."

It all sounds like the life of a full time student, but it's actually the life of Drake University's Events Manager Matt Miller and his staff as they prepare the Knapp Center for eight high school graduations in 48 hours.

"We've done this for years and I think we have it down pretty well that we can make it work," he said.

Making it work takes a ton of careful planning so graduates can look good walking across the stage towards that diploma.

"Fourteen stage pieces we bring out. There's eight to twelve ramp pieces, then rails need to be bolted in and screwed in," said Miller.

Dowling Catholic's commencement is Friday night.

"There's a certain distance between each chair and chairs per row. You have to put down a certain width of the aisle. So there's a lot of measuring."

East High, the largest high school in the state, begins bright and early at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Hoover is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. and Lincoln, Iowa's second largest, at 3:30 p.m. Roosevelt ends the evening with a 7:30 p.m. graduation.

"East is at 9 a.m. and if they go the full two hours, Hoover won't start until 12:30 p.m. So that gives us a full hour and a half in between to get the East families out."

On Sunday, Valley walks at 12:30 p.m., followed by Southeast Polk at 4:30 p.m. and Des Moines North at 7:30 p.m.

Miller said organizers work to set up microphones at the correct angles so everyone in attendance can hear the band and choir. The whole set-up process ends in sweat and tireless effort.

"Urbandale last night had 29 chairs on stage. Today we have 18 and some have five. It's all the little fine tuning that can take eight to ten hours."

He says it's all worth it just for the smiles that mean so much.

"This is sometimes the first generation graduating high school, so seeing the celebrations when their names are on the board, those are really cool moments."

The Knapp Center was in such demand that both Ankeny and Ankeny Centennial High Schools were forced to hold their ceremonies at Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University.