By Ephreeda Banda, student writer and graduation helper
Graduation week at Rhodes University is a momentous occasion for graduates and their loved ones, as it marks the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. To ensure the smooth running of the prestigious event, the University relies heavily on the support of student helpers behind-the-scenes.
Student helpers are essential to ensure logistical aspects of graduation week run smoothly. They are employed in various support structures of the University, such as the student bureau, academic administration, communications, branding and alumni relations.
"It would be impossible to pull off a successful graduation without the assistance of our student helpers," explained Ilva Pieterse, Senior Social Media Officer at Rhodes University. "And we are lucky to be in a situation where we can employ students, who understand the context and importance of graduation, rather than rely on external help."
They assist with various tasks, including setting up venues, managing queues, directing guests, creating a social media buzz, taking pictures and supporting staff members.
One of the ushers, Abongile Gotyana, said: "It has been a great experience. Everyone has been friendly and helpful. There is much collaborative work, so everyone works together to get the job done. This job makes me see the importance of graduation and why it is the best moment in people's lives. There is so much joy and excitement, and we get to see families celebrate. It is a joyful experience with the graduates."
Student helpers are vital in enhancing the guest experience during graduation week. They are often the first point of contact for guests and visitors, and as such, they play a crucial role in creating a positive impression of the University. Student helpers are trained to provide a high level of customer service, which includes being friendly, approachable, and knowledgeable about the event. They can answer questions, provide directions, and ensure guests are comfortable and well-informed throughout their visit.
Student helpers also have the opportunity to gain valuable skills and experience through their involvement in graduation week. The experience of working as a student helper can develop a range of transferable skills, including communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and time management. Additionally, the experience of working during graduation week can help to build confidence and provide a sense of achievement and satisfaction in students.
Cebokazi Duze, a regular Communication and Advancement Division assistant, said that when she joined the student helpers' team, she gained experience in branding and helped with packing gifts and graduation packages for new alumni. She said being around different people doing different things and learning new things was one thing that motivated her to be a part of the student helpers' team regularly. "I found it enjoyable to meet people from different areas of expertise and backgrounds," said Duze.
Furthermore, student helpers are essential in fostering community and pride among the Rhodes University student body. Graduation week is a time for celebrating students' achievements, and by working as a student helper, students can play an active role in this celebration. Moreover, the experience of being a student helper during graduation week can help to create lasting memories and connections with fellow students, staff members, and the wider community.
"We grow extremely fond of our student helpers," said Pieterse. "Seeing them every graduation morning, from as early as 07h30, cheery and excited, helps set the mood for our staff members. And even after a long day of being on their feet, our helpers are still keen to jump in and move boxes or carry tables. Their enthusiasm is contagious and often keeps us 'older ones' going."
The involvement of student helpers during graduation week demonstrates the importance of student engagement and participation in the life of the University. The University is committed to valuing and involving its students in the broader community by allowing students to play an active role in such a significant event.
Student Bureau Manager Desiree Wicks, who is fully involved with the graduation preparations, expressed her appreciation for the student helpers. "They are key,” she stated. “They are like an army of workers that appear and make it successful and support the staff. I have two student helpers who specifically work with me during this time, and I would not be able to do my job as thoroughly if I did not have their support."
The Rhodes University community would like to express their deepfelt gratitude to the unsung heroes of graduation – our student helpers.