Providing comments for the commentator

Behind the scenes of preparations for the Commencement webcast

Tom Rosko (left) and Matt McGann

Tom Rosko, Institute archivist and head, Institute Archives and Special Collections (IASC), has been a commentator during MIT’s Commencement procession every year since 2005. The only exception was in 2009 when other commitments prevented his participation.

Listening to the commentary, you might wonder how Rosko has come to know as much as he does.

Rosko’s first stint as a commentator for an MIT event was the inauguration of Susan Hockfield on May 6, 2005. Building on information provided by the MIT Information Center, staff at the IASC combed through records in the Archives for information about previous MIT inaugurations. Who was the first MIT president to have an inaugural ceremony (Pritchett in 1900)? When and where were Pritchett’s, and subsequent, inaugurations held? Where are copies of inaugural addresses (now available online on the IASC website)? Who processed at the various inaugurations? What music was played? Finding these and other tidbits of information helped to enrich the commentary.

Similar research about Commencement happens every year. About 6-8 weeks in advance of Commencement, temporary staff or students under Archivist for Reference, Outreach, and Instruction Nora Murphy’s direction collect information about previous commencements, 100, 75, 50, 25, and 10 years earlier. Who spoke? Were there notable graduates? Where were they held? What was the weather? Were there any unusual occurrences?

Over the years, an increasingly thick binder of information accompanies Rosko when he attends rehearsals in preparation for Commencement. As his experience and knowledge have increased, coincidentally his physical location during the procession has vastly improved. In recent years he and Director of Admissions Matt McGann have been located in a classroom overlooking Killian Court, but earlier years saw the commentators located under the staging in cramped quarters, balancing binders and microphones (and even umbrellas when it rained!) on their laps.

Watch the 2017 MIT Commencement webcast