He's Been Reading The Names At ASU Graduation For Over 25 Years. Now He's Taking His Talents Online

By Steve Goldstein, Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 12:53pm
Updated: Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 6:28pm

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Peter Lafford
Charlie Leight/ASU
Peter Lafford has been part of ASU commencements for more than 25 years, reading the names of graduates.

It’s graduation time for many students across Arizona. For 2020 grads at Arizona State University, Tuesday would have been the big day. But as with all other large events, in-person commencement has been reimagined. 

This week, Sun Devil students can participate digitally with a virtual ceremony. Over 16,000 students are set to earn their diplomas this year. The 2020 class is projected to be the largest ASU graduating class to date.

But for one individual, the ceremony is not about getting his degree. Rather he has been part of ASU commencements for more than 25 years, reading the names of graduates as they walk the stage to receive their degree. 

That’s Peter Lafford, an ASU associate research professor emeritus and a multilingual technology professional. Typically he would read close to 4,000 names. He says he has a distinct advantage when it comes to pronouncing students’ names.

“I think, first of all, having background in foreign languages, this degree in French, and I speak German, and I spent  a year in Colombia, with my wife, so I also speak Spanish, so having a good start there with those European languages got me going,” Lafford said. 

Then there are those names that you just have to remember when you see them. Lafford said there was one Hawaiian name in 2010 that stuck out to him that required memorization.

“Gwendolyn Kamakaokapunanaulaokalani Emmsley. You know, you just have to learn that to be ready for when that student hands you the card say, yeah, there it is, and just go into autopilot," Lafford said. "Say it. And you see their smile that yeah, you got it right. And they carry on and shake the Dean's hand or something like that. You know, it’s for that moment where the student appreciates the effort that we worked hard to try to get that right for them.”

Recording Setup
Peter Lafford
This year with graduation going online, Lafford and other name readers have been recording the names of the students who have graduated.

This year with graduation going online, Lafford and other name readers have been recording the names of the students who have graduated. And since students can “attend” the ceremony from anywhere in the world, Lafford recorded around 15,000 names.

“We wanted to convey the message to our grads that even though the celebration won't be live, we are proud of you and looking forward to celebrating your achievements with the online celebration," Lafford said. "And then you're still welcome to come to attend the live ceremonies in December or next May.”

Graduates will get a slide when their name is read, along with their degree and any video they chose to send in.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify Lafford's title, correct the number of names this year and correct the spelling of Gwendolyn Kamakaokapunanaulaokalani Emmsley.

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