Sadanand Verma is a fixture at the university’s commencement ceremonies. The long-time mathematics professor, who hasn't missed a commencement in 50 years, has served as the grand marshal — carrying the university mace — at nearly every commencement for the last two decades.
The mace is carried during commencement by the grand marshal, whose symbolic duty is the protection of the university, its people, and its processes. The honor goes to the faculty member with the longest tenure. That would normally be English professor Felicia Campbell, who rolled onto UNLV's dusty campus in 1962.
But, since the thing is awfully heavy, she passed the honors to Verma. And with multiple ceremonies in the spring, the baton is often passed between Verma and economics professor Bernard Malamud.
Verma and started at UNLV in 1967 and Malumud followed the next year, when the university was still known as Nevada Southern University.
There were only five buildings and approximately 3,000 motivated students. Maryland Parkway was a dirt road and many departments were housed in trailers. Verma was instrumental in starting the university’s math program — there was no mathematics degree program at the time — and hiring its faculty.
Malamud, meanwhile, joined the business college as he was completing his Ph.D. He was recruited by Tom White, the business college's dean. "We left campus on an unpaved road," Malamud recalls. "Just as he was describing his vision of UNLV's future, it's physical plant, and its academic prowess, a rabbit hopped out of the tumbleweed in front of Tom's car." While there's always some work to be done, Malamud notes, "Much of Tom's vision of 50 years ago has been realized."
Commencement then was held in the school's gym, which is now home to Marjorie Barrick Museum.
“Through the years, several entertainers and other prominent local Nevadans were awarded honorary degrees, making the activities even more memorable,” Verma said. “Entertainer Bob Hope (1970) in the Convention Center Rotunda practically stole the show. The most recent memorable one was former Las Vegan, comedian, and talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, a student at UNLV from 1985-86 who received an honorary doctorate in 2013. He had the entire audience laughing by saying he worked harder on his commencement speech that he did at any of the homework he had at UNLV.”
About the Mace
The UNLV mace, cast by art professor emeritus Michael McCollum in 1970, was created using the lost wax process. Eric Gronborg’s design for the cubical head of the mace included facets depicting the university seal, a rendering of the Statue of Liberty, a likeness of Renaissance scholar Leonardo da Vinci, and a shelf of books flanked by artists' brushes.