Published: April 18, 2024 By

Editor’s note: This article, originally published in 2022, has been updated to reflect this year's information.

As the calendar turns to April, many people on the CU Boulder campus start to think about the end of the spring semester. That means finals, summer break, internships. For some, it also means graduation.

Bud Coleman holds the mace during the 2022 commencement ceremony

There’s nothing like stepping out in front of thousands of people on a bright, beautiful Colorado sunny day.”
–Bud Coleman

And for Bud Coleman, the CU Boulder commencement marshal, it means crunch time is here. Coleman, who took on the role of commencement marshal in 2018 from Jim Williams, relishes his role as the leader of the campuswide commencement ceremony.

A professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Theater & Dance, Coleman is no stranger to having a leading role. Trained as an actor and dancer, he has performed in front of large audiences. But, he says, there’s something magical about leading a ceremony that brings such joy to all in attendance. Coleman took some time to talk with CU Boulder Today about his role as commencement marshal and to share his knowledge about everything commencement.

Leading the ceremony

There’s nothing like stepping out in front of thousands of people on a bright, beautiful Colorado sunny day. Actually I do get nervous, but I’ve told myself for years that if I get to the point where I’m in front of an audience and I’m not nervous, then it’s time to stop. Nervous just means that I care and I’m going to channel that energy into a positive experience for the people who are there. I actually like the nervousness.

The marshal’s role

My role as commencement marshal is mostly behind the scenes, until the day of the ceremony. I work with a committee to help plan the main ceremony, in addition to 74 recognition ceremonies this year, where individual colleges, schools, departments, programs, and groups can celebrate their graduates. When it comes to putting on all of these events, there is no dress rehearsal. You have to hit it absolutely correct right out of the gate, and that takes an enormous amount of planning. It’s a real team effort.

For the graduating students reading this, you recently received an email from the commencement office with information you need to know to be ready for the commencement ceremony. Please respond so that we are all set for you on May 9.

Time as commencement marshal

On this campus, the word marshal and Jim Williams were synonymous. Jim was the marshal for 27 years before he retired in 2017. Several years ago the chancellor approached me about replacing Jim when he retired. I appreciated the chancellor’s faith in me and I accepted.

My first year was 2018, and it was a picture-perfect Colorado day. The next year it snowed. Then of course we had to go virtual in 2020 and 2021. We were all excited for our graduates and their families to be able to return to Folsom Field in 2022 to reconvene our in-person commencement ceremony.

Bud Coleman leads the commencement procession

Bud Coleman leads the commencement procession

2022 commencement procession

The 2022 commencement procession

The best parts of ceremony day

Seeing the students greet each other on the Norlin Quad as we assemble by schools and colleges is one of my favorite campus rituals. During the procession to the stadium you can sense the excitement among the students as we march toward Folsom. For many students this will be the first time they have been down on the field, even though they may have been going to football games for years.

Once everyone is seated, you see the sea of graduating students on the field, and you look up in the stands and see their families and friends. Nothing is better than that.

The mace

There is not one direct origin story of the mace, though its use goes back hundreds and hundreds of years. We do have documentation that during Medieval times and certainly by the Renaissance, town hall meetings would begin with somebody banging a large staff to get the attention of those in attendance. As maces became more elaborate, the tradition of banging them on the ground ceased, and the use of the gavel began instead. 

The mace I use during the commencement ceremony is a work of art, made of gold and silver and Colorado walnut. When it is not being used, we keep it in what we call the coffin, a rectangular box meant to preserve and protect it.

Academic hoods

Part of the pageantry the audience will see are the academic hoods, which now look like elaborate collars on the graduation gowns. Once again, these have a history going back to the Renaissance.

Some universities had already been around for a while, but this is the time when students began to specialize in individual fields, as opposed to having a general college degree. To differentiate these different foci, various colors were selected to identify the individual academic disciplines. That’s why you’ll see a lot of variety in the hoods that are on academic gowns, because they reflect the academic discipline the person is from.


The robes themselves also have quite a bit of variety. For example, you’ll see no stripes on the sleeves for the undergraduate students, two stripes for master’s degree students and three stripes for the doctoral students. Some schools have different colored robes, too, so when you observe the faculty, you’ll see quite an array of robe colors representing the institutions where they got their doctorate.

(Learn more about academic dress for CU Boulder graduates.)

Norlin Charge

At the end of the ceremony, the Norlin Charge is read. I tear up every time. These words have been spoken at the University of Colorado Boulder commencement ceremony since 1935, and I hope the students see this as a link to the past, to the 300,000 CU Boulder graduates who have proceeded them. 

Commencement means commencing, looking forward. One of the great things about the Norlin Charge is asking the graduates to not only think about the future, but to also recognize the richness of the past, and that they are all now connected as alumni.

The seal on a University of Colorado diploma contains the image of a lamp in the hands of youth. “If its light shines not in you and from you, how great is its darkness! But if it shines in you today, and in the thousands before you, who can measure its power?”

Sign up to volunteer at commencement

Volunteer for a variety of opportunities to be part of this important day, from helping manage the procession to providing guest golf cart transportation. 

Sign Up Now

Advice for graduating students

Take in these last few weeks.  We are so fortunate to be here in this beautiful place. Take a moment to recognize we are a part of the continuum of students, faculty and staff who make up CU Boulder, and what an honor it is to be a part of this university community.

Faculty and staff: Please join the ceremony

I enthusiastically encourage our faculty and staff to join us for commencement on May 9 in order to experience the joy of seeing their work come to fruition. What they do helps our students, so commencement is an opportunity for them to share in the joy as well. The invitation is there. You are part of the CU Boulder family, come help us celebrate!