June 6, 2023

Jon Reynolds: What’s in a Name?

Jon Reynolds is the director of marketing and audience services for UMW's Department of Theatre. But two days a year, he steps into the role of Mary Washington's commencement reader.

Jon Reynolds is the director of marketing and audience services for UMW’s Department of Theatre. But two days a year, the ’07 graduate steps into the role of Mary Washington’s commencement reader.

The whole Mary Washington campus is bustling with activity. Graduates are trying on their caps and gowns, celebrating the end of college and their bright futures. Professors are grading final exams and thesis projects. And Jon Reynolds ’07, from the Department of Theatre, is rehearsing for the role of a lifetime – UMW’s commencement reader.

Hearing one’s name and striding across the stage to shake President Paino’s hand is something every UMW student – not to mention their families – wait for four years to experience. So for the third year in a row, Reynolds has put in weeks of preparation to learn the names of more than 1,300 undergraduate and graduate students.

“There’s a lot of rehearsal involved for me, but I trained as an actor here at UMW and in D.C.,” said Reynolds, who landed the gig after emceeing Dancing with the Fredericksburg Stars several years ago. “It’s just a matter of incorporating my warm-up rituals from that time in my life. I’m surrounded by it every day, so it would be hard to lose.”

Indeed. As the director of marketing and audience services, Reynolds is an integral part of making each theatre production a success. He loves helping audiences have unforgettable experiences in Klein Theatre. He’s also thrilled to see UMW theatre students graduate and succeed on Broadway and at D.C. venues like Ford’s Theatre, The Kennedy Center and Arena Stage. And he says the students are getting better with each passing year.

“I’m inspired that our students are getting an even richer experience than I was able to have, thanks to our patrons, donors, faculty and staff, and the students themselves,” said Reynolds. “I’m thrilled I get to be a part of that growth.”


Q: Have you ever had trouble with a graduate’s name at commencement?
A: Not yet. There was a challenging one last year, and she and I just locked eyes, and I said “Here we go!” She laughed, and I proceeded to pronounce it flawlessly. A friend sitting near her family later told me they had said that no one had pronounced it right at any previous ceremony in her whole life. I was happy to be the first.

Q: What kind of preparation goes into the role of commencement reader?
A: We use a program where students record their names, and I listen to them. I make notes with the phonetic spelling of each name, which are printed on the card each graduate hands me at commencement so that I can recite it.

Q: What do you enjoy most about the experience?
A: I once listened to a podcast about the importance of pronouncing someone’s name correctly. It is a major part of every person’s identity. To brush it off or not attempt to get it right is insulting. I took that to heart, and it makes me take the job more seriously.

Q: Will you share your most meaningful Mary Washington memories?
A: I met my wife here. We now have two beautiful children – our daughter Henley was born last Saturday and we also have a son named Chandler – and we live in Alexandria. She and I were both theatre majors, and she still choreographs our musicals and teaches our students. Getting to collaborate with her is a joy for me.

Q: Can you tell us more about the new theatre UMW hopes to build?
A: Like our colleagues in Pollard and Melchers, we are out of room in duPont Hall. A new facility will have a lot of what we have now, but with ample space to accommodate all of the students in the program. We also want to enhance the audience experience so that everyone who comes to a performance leaves amazed at our work and the university. Fingers crossed President Paino has success with the legislature this fall!

Q: What other profession would you like to have?
A: If I had more time, I would love to learn the ins and outs of brewing beer. I’ve made tasting beer a hobby, and if I could choose another profession and do it well, it would probably be opening a brewery.

Q: What is the one thing in your office that means the most to you?
A: I have a guitar I made after I graduated with a collage of photos from when I was a UMW student. It hangs on the wall in my office, and I can look back at how much fun we had. It’s hard to believe I graduated 12 years ago.