By Hudson Nuckolls
How do you know you’re at a commencement ceremony at The University of Alabama?
Gowns, cords and diplomas are obvious hints. You might see some mortarboards fly in the air and some joyful tears fall.
One way to be certain is to listen to a familiar voice announcing graduates. That voice belongs to Doff Procter, who has been reading names at commencement since 1995.
Here are some things you don’t know about the voice of graduation at UA.
He was raised in Northport and attended The University of Alabama.
Procter was born and raised in Northport and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance at UA before getting his master’s degree in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He then received his artist’s diploma from the Conservatory of Music in Geneva, Switzerland.
He lived in Europe for 10 years.
He and his wife Laurel spent 10 years in Europe singing in opera houses in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. They even got to perform together.
He taught at UA.
For five years, Procter taught in an adjunct role in the School of Music in the College of Arts and Sciences.
He manages 12 choirs.
After teaching at UA, he went on to become director of the Alabama Choir School, as well as director of music at Christ Episcopal Church. He says he “couldn’t juggle it all without assistance from a tremendous staff.”
He doesn’t drink water while reading names.
He learned from a former voice teacher to hydrate as much as possible before singing or speaking, but not during. Water can wash away the mouth’s natural saliva, which can lead to dry mouth.
He prepares days before ceremonies begin.
After receiving the list of names, he spends time at home reading through them and circling the ones that are more difficult, all while he and his wife watch whatever is playing on their DVR in the background. Then the night before the first graduation, he will go through the marked names and decide final pronunciations.
He forgot to read the honor for his own daughter.
He has gotten to read the names of two out of three of his daughters graduating. When one of them, Leslie, walked across the stage a few years ago, he read her name and couldn’t help himself from getting up to hug her. She whispered to him that he forgot to add the “summa cum laude,” which they still joke about today.
He uses singing and performing techniques for reading names.
He says things he learned over his career performing, like breath control and hydration, help him “tremendously” with reading names. “It’s basically like singing the whole two hours. If I didn’t have this training, I wouldn’t be able to make it through all the names.”
He’s read names of Alabama legends.
Aside from his daughters, his favorite name he’s ever read was Joe Namath, who came back to school to finish his degree and walked across the Coleman Coliseum stage in 2007.