June 1, 1998
If you attended the Freeman School's graduation last month, you witnessed a virtually unprecedented event: Ducky didn't lead the procession. For the last 25 years, Karlem "Ducky" Riess, professor emeritus of physics, has ushered thousands of students into the ceremony that marks a symbolic entrance into the real world.
As university marshal, Riess is responsible for leading the procession at each commencement ceremony as well as ensuring that the ritual adheres to proper protocol, with pomp and circumstance intact. To say that Ducky Riess is an institution at Tulane would be a gross understatement.
Riess has been deeply involved in Tulane since 1943, when he joined the physics department as an assistant professor. He served 38 years as faculty adviser to the Interfraternity Council, and, after his retirement from the liberal arts and sciences faculty in 1983, joined the office of student affairs. He has been actively involved with--as well as recipient of practically every award handed out by--Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa, the national honor society.
Earlier this year, Omicron honored Riess yet again by creating the Ducky, an award in Riess' honor. This year, however, marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. After serving as Tulane's tireless defender of decorum, Riess officially retired this year. Serving his first year in the role of university marshal was professor of sociology Ed Morse, a longtime marshal at Newcomb College and a longtime admirer of Riess.
"Dr. Riess started calling me 'freshman' 27 years ago, and he still calls me that," Morse says of his marshal mentor. "He is someone who personifies love for the university. No matter what's going on, come rain or shine, he's always there."
On the surface, the responsibilities of university marshal do not seem overwhelming. Essentially, the marshal schedules the commencement calendar, reports it to University Senate and then leads graduation processions for 10 of Tulane's schools and colleges. At least that's what the job description says. In reality, the university marshal works with each school's commencement volunteers to ensure that a myriad of transparent but crucial details are taken care of. What kind of details?
"For example, the other day at the business school's commencement, there was a student in a wheelchair and he wanted to go onstage to get his diploma," Riess says. "It was a very heavy chair, so we arranged for him to be taken through the back of McAlister and lifted onto the stage. When the time came, he was wheeled out to receive his diploma."
Riess is not simply the longest-serving university marshal in Tulane history, he was also the first marshal in Tulane history, or at least the first to hold the official title. According to Riess, professor of physics Daniel Elliott and, later, dean of students John Stibbs served on an ad hoc basis as university marshals, but it was not until Tulane president Herbert Longenecker asked Riess to serve as the university's official marshal that the position was formalized.
"Let's put it this way," Riess says. "Some things you're asked to do you don't turn down." Morse is no stranger to pomp and circumstance himself. As a Newcomb College marshal, Morse knows the role well.
"The marshal is not supposed to be in the spotlight," he explains. "The marshal's job is to put the president, the dean and the provost in the spotlight."
One thing both Riess and Morse are sure of is that, despite Riess' retirement, they'd like to continue to work together. This year, for example, Morse was scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., on the days of commencement for the graduate school, engineering and public health. For those three ceremonies, Riess stepped temporarily out of retirement.
For Freeman, Newcomb, Tulane College and University College, Morse led the procession, but Riess was on hand as well. Morse went it alone on the School of Architecture's commencement. Despite his successor's greenness, Riess says he has no advice to offer Morse on the finer points of marshaling.
"He has been the Newcomb marshal for years. He knows what to do," Riess says. Morse has a different take on that subject. "Ducky gives me continuous advice," he says. "If Ducky didn't tell me what to do, I wouldn't be sure that it was Ducky. If we're going to do a graduation, he's going to tell me 25 minutes beforehand whether anything is different. Otherwise, he says, 'You know what to do,' which is just lead everybody in. "It's all ceremonial," Morse confides. "You just gotta make sure you stay out of the rain and don't fall over the chairs."
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