All students dream of the day Julie Grueneberg will watch them walk across a stage, whether they realize it or not. As assistant registrar for graduation, Julie is responsible for determining who is eligible for graduation. An advocate for helping students graduate since 1989, Julie has assisted over 20,000 students in her years at Southeast as the assistant registrar for graduation. With so many varied odd jobs involved with her position, Julie’s life is never boring, and she has a knack for getting things done creatively.
“In a matter of a few hours, I might be shaking the hand of the U.S. Secretary of Education (a commencement speaker), and at home at night in my garage, spray painting an easel black because blonde wood looks tacky on the commencement stage. And I guess that’s what I enjoy most about my job; you never know what’s going to come up that requires a creative solution, and it’s always a challenge.”
Julie manages the commencement committee and plans and conducts the commencement ceremony, doing everything from determining seating and spacing for the lineup of graduates to choosing musical groups and music for the day. She is also manager of National Student Clearinghouse data and building coordinator of Academic Hall. She also occasionally programs the chimes that ring across the Southeast campus.
Julie became responsible for commencement ceremonies at Southeast in the spring of 1993. She says she has had so many wonderful moments here at Southeast she can hardly choose one. She witnessed the first blind student to graduate from Southeast walking across the stage with the assistance of her cap-and-gown-clad guide dog. However, every student is special in his or her own way, Julie says.
“There’s always a parent or other guest at commencement that figures out what I do, and asks me if I know their son, daughter, niece, 42nd cousin, or whatever,” Julie says. “With hundreds of names, I usually don’t know their child, and I always tell them, truthfully, that it’s the highest compliment I can give them. They’re a little puzzled at that until I explain that because students lead such busy lives, everything about graduation is set up to be accomplished by mail. If a student does all that she should, when she should, and in the way she should, her name will not very likely come to my attention. So the student must have been taught well as he or she grew up. It’s really something to watch the grin that comes across a parent’s face at that point.”
The fact that Julie is assistant registrar for graduation is somewhat of a role reversal. A Southeast graduate, Julie now assists others in the same path she took across the stage a few years ago. Julie says, over the years, Southeast somehow chose her, and now she’s come home to her alma mater. Growing up in a family with seven children raised on a blue-collar worker’s salary, college was a bit of a stretch for the budget of Julie’s family. What ultimately helped her through was a scholarship she earned at Southeast. Through her hard work, Julie kept the scholarship throughout her years as a student, earning a bachelor of science in education degree with a major in social studies and a minor in driver education. Julie says her degree still helps her to this day.
“Although the content area for my degree has not been used that much in my present work, the methods I learned to find the content come in very handy here,” she says. “There are frequently times when it’s necessary to dig through old records, find obscure information, etc. The professional education has been very useful because teaching is teaching, whether it’s driver ed, or how to get through the graduation process.”
Outside her work at Southeast, Julie says her first love is spoiling her three four-legged kids. She has two schnauzers, Sweetpea and Woody, and a rescue dog named Georgie Girl. All three dogs have been tested and are therapy dogs, and Julie enjoys what the animals are able to do for people.
“Georgie and Woody regularly visit nursing homes and hospitals,” Julie said. “More than once, one of the three [dogs] has caused a smile from someone who had been unable to respond, a word from someone silent and unable to speak, or a movement from someone who was paralyzed. Perhaps more importantly, they have provided the incentive to try when someone had given up.”
When not providing therapeutic interaction with her dogs, Julie enjoys needlework, crafts, photography, and has taught crafts at her church’s Vacation Bible School. She is an active member of Southeast's chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, an interdisciplinary honor society whose primary purpose is to promote the love of learning through service to humanity. She vacations while visiting family in the warmer climates of Arizona, Alabama and Florida. In the future, Julie would like to visit Germany to see if she can dig up any old family records, and, she quips, “get someone to tell me what they say.”
Finally, Julie has several pieces of advice for students.
“First: read and follow directions. There are so many students who have difficult situations to work out, all because they decided something wasn’t important without reading it. I understand the time constraints that students and everyone else have on their time these days, but paying attention to written information is the most important thing they can do to reduce the severity of problems they will experience in every aspect of their lives for the many years I hope they will all live. If they don’t learn anything else, I hope that sinks in by the time they graduate from college.
“Second: listen to George Carlin’s act in regard to cats. He talks about how no matter what happens, the cat always implies that he meant to do exactly that. Cat races around the room, smacks into a sliding glass door, bounces off, does a somersault in mid-air, falls to the floor, and looks smugly around as if to say, ‘Yeah. I meant to do exactly that.’ When you are in the eye of the public, as we are at commencement, you never want to start a panic by looking flustered. As long as you keep your cool and look around as if you meant to do something, the public will believe it, even if they think you’re nuts for doing it that way. Once you are out of the public eye, then you can react any way you want toᾰalthough you probably shouldn’t do what George Carlin says cats do when they’re alone.
“And three, wear sunscreen. There’s a fairly famous commencement address that has been attributed erroneously to Kurt Vonnegut and several others whose theme is wear sunscreen (you can review that information online at http://www.wesselenyi.com/speech.htm). You’ll see it gives good advice, including reading directions, to students about how to become totally responsible for themselves for the very first time. For me, that advice has an added meaning. I am a survivor of melanoma, and although I am not, nor have I ever been, a sun worshipper, sunscreen has become as much a part of my daily routine as breathing. Some women carry lipstick in their purses. I carry sunscreen.”