Livening Up the Awards Ceremony

In about a month we’ll be holding our department’s annual awards ceremony, where we recognize scholarship and writing contest winners, favorite faculty, and the like. It’s generally well-attended by students and faculty, but I’ll confess that after about a decade in the department I find it repetitive and boring (shhh, don’t tell anyone). I say some words of introduction, then we move to representatives from our awards and scholarship committee introducing a succession of award winners, bringing them forward for applause and a certificate, and then we break for cake or cookies. Any ideas on how to change things up?—Bored of Prizes

Dear Professor Prizes,

It sounds like your awards ceremony is depersonalized and not really about the students who win these awards. One thing that might spark it up is to give students space to talk a little bit as they receive their awards. While faculty members might be given to logorrhea, students are usually not, and it’s very gratifying to hear them thank faculty and talk about the value to them of the award and the department more generally. My department has been doing this for years, and it’s actually quite moving to hear students acknowledge the folks who have helped them along the way. If any of your prizes are endowed by people who are local, try having them hand over the certificate (and check when pertinent!) and say something about why they support this particular prize.

One other strategy is to have specific faculty members in your department volunteer to award prizes, rather than members of the committee. Faculty members who have worked with the various winners can speak in more specific ways about the winners, and about the quality of their work. Too, you may have more faculty attendance if those members know that a student would like to thank them. The ceremony will be more affecting and interesting the more people are personally invested in it, so allow some space for the connections between students and faculty.

—The Chair