One-of-a-kind marshal makes day memorable

by Bruce Mason
Staff writer

Hundreds of gowned biochemists, foresters, lawyers, musicians, and other graduates have formed into rows. Years of struggle and final exams are finished. They've made it, but they are nervous.

From the front of the large room in the Graduate Student Centre, a 6-foot-5 man with a warm voice and easy laugh is explaining what will be expected of them in a few minutes when they arrive at Congregation ceremonies in the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

"How many kneeling stools do you think there are on the stage?" he asks, holding up one finger. "This is low stress -- there's one kneeling stool -- you can't miss it," he says. "Right knee, left knee, one knee, two knees, it doesn't matter -- just get down."

Ask a UBC alumnus what they remember about Congregation and chances are pretty good they will say, "Nestor Korchinsky, the guy who did the warm-up."

For more than 20 years, as head marshal of the student procession, he has had his finger on the pulse of Congregation ceremonies and touched the hearts of tens of thousands of graduates.

"Congregation is the celebration of a significant transition in life. It should be memorable," he says.

Korchinsky likens Congregation to a computer -- what you see requires countless hours of careful and precise programming behind the scenes.

"For each graduate there is really only one ceremony, so each of the 23 we are staging this year has to be equally magnificent," he says.

"Every one represents a unique and important opportunity for the university community to say to our students we're proud of your achievements and you have our best wishes and support."

Steve Wexler, associate professor of Law, and Ted Danner, professor emeritus in Geology, are marshals who help out.

"We're graduation junkies and we try to make each ceremony run smoothly and give everyone as much pleasure as possible," says Wexler. "Nestor is wonderful at this. He has a gift and he is a master."

For the other 50 weeks of the year, Korchinsky, assistant professor of Human Kinetics, is co-ordinator of UBC's Intramural Sports and Recreation program. With more than 15,000 participants, it's the largest in the country, and widely regarded as the best.

Eilis Courtney, manager of Ceremonies and Events, says, "Alumni ask me all the time, `How's Nestor?' He did so much to make my graduation memorable."

"We are considering videotaping him, so in the future we can study what he does, but I doubt if we will ever truly capture it."