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October 4, 2021


Graduations are a milestone,” says John McGovern of Shadowbox Design Management on Long Island, New York, “so you’ve got to make it special. It’s all about branding, about image.”

McGovern and Shadowbox are one of the companies leading a shift toward employing Stageline mobile staging to make commencement ceremonies for college and universities really stand out. “What it comes down to is showmanship,” McGovern says. “It all has to be very clean, and very refined. There are parents coming to graduation who have paid four years’ worth of tuition, and they need to see something substantial. Even if it’s just smoke and mirrors, it needs to be something that wows them. There’s nothing more impressive than a huge stage set up in front of an existing building or on a field with a whole lot of chairs out in front of it.”

Pete Cavanagh of San Diego’s Kleege Industries agrees. Among his clients is the University of California – San Diego, which with a total enrollment of nearly 36,000 students is so large that its graduation ceremonies stretch for several days, to accommodate the University’s six individual colleges. Cavanagh sets up their commencement on the enormous RIMAC Field, which is large enough to accommodate six baseball fields. This year, UCSD commencement’s VIP guests will include the Dalai Lama. With that size of student body and that kind of VIP roster, it makes sense that it’s important to UCSD that everyone can see the event clearly.

“The reason I talked them into the SAM575 is that they wanted to hang a lot of video on the wings,” Cavanagh explains. “We used to do a SL320, which was big enough for their graduation, but they wanted to hang video, so I had to bring in two steel towers and build them up. I said, ‘Why don’t you use the SAM and use the video flybays for that reason? You can get rid of all the steel.’ They absolutely loved the idea. Now they hang a big video screen on the left and right.”

The six-foot stage is a little high for graduates to walk across, so Cavanagh’s Kleege team builds a four-foot platform in front—with stairs leading up to the six-foot SAM stage, where the VIPs and dignitaries sit.

“I build a ramp left and right so the graduates can walk up onstage, receive their diplomas, and walk off stage left,” Cavanagh explains. “The dignitaries and the VIPs are up high, and the people pass by them. It works really well. UCSD loves the idea of the big video that everyone can see.”

For commencement ceremonies at St. John’s University in New York City, McGovern says “We set up the 550 in front of the library. It’s a great location on a plaza with a huge great lawn right in front of it. That’s the focus of the University anyhow: from the main entrance, it’s one of the first things you see. To meet those needs, we designed an entire drapery package around the 550, along with banners and flags.”

SAM550 for SJU Commencement (Shadowbox Design)

Stageline Mobile Stage

Like Cavanagh, McGovern and Shadowbox recognized the value of making commencement an multimedia event: his production involves a six-camera shoot feeding to video screens, and a jib flying in front of the stage.

“It really becomes a focal point: it’s obvious where you’re looking,” he explains. “Everyone knows where it is. We’ve got flags up on the roof and down below, and it tapers up to the cross, which is above the stage itself. The drapery package is a gorgeous deep red velour with a white bullion, so it really stands out. It doesn’t even look like a mobile stage anymore.”

For each, the ease of use is what makes Stageline a natural choice. Cavanagh points out that for a ceremony as large as UCSD’s, buying time for organizers is critical.

“There’s no real production on the stage. Maybe there’s some area lighting, but there are no wings to it,” he explains. “We can set it up in four hours. They have chairs they have to put in, so we can just get the unit in, and once it’s in there, they can start their field set-up. That’s very important to them, since they have to get their seats all numbered. We can get in early, and that makes a difference.”


McGovern concurs, noting the Stageline stages offer the right scale for the job—depending on the college or university; Shadowbox has used either the SL255 or the SAM550.

“The Stageline mobile stages are nice because they’re so easy to set up, and they give you a huge bulk to work with,” McGovern says. “The 550 really adds a lot. That’s how we sold it to St John’s. It saves so much time.