After 45 years in the registrar’s office at Texas A&M University, the last quarter century as the registrar, Donald Carter is bringing his career to a close — but not before overseeing one last time all of the meticulous work that goes into formally awarding Aggies their degrees. He has been instrumental in passing out diplomas to about 340,000 Aggies, approximately 88 percent of all those ever awarded at the state’s oldest public university.
In the process, he estimates he has participated in more than 300 graduation ceremonies, which could well be a record nationally.
In addition to preparing diplomas for presentation and coordinating various aspects of those special days in the lives of Aggie graduates and their families and friends, Carter also oversees the daunting task of keeping track of all the students’ academic records and related activities. Also, his office maintains transcripts for all students who ever attended Texas A&M.
When he began his Texas A&M career in September of 1966, the university had an enrollment of 10,677, of which about five percent were women, Carter recalls. Now, the student body totals almost 50,000, with about 46 percent of them women.
Carter says he takes special pride in the fact that every Texas A&M student who walks across the stage at graduation actually receives a diploma in the cylinder that is handed out by the president of the university.
“That’s a rarity in higher education these days, especially for large universities. Most college students elsewhere are given empty cylinders at their ceremonies and then subsequently receive their diplomas by mail or via some other impersonal capacity,” Carter notes. “I am proud that’s not the case here.”
His colleagues in the registrar’s office burn the proverbial midnight oil before each commencement day to get those diplomas ready and to ensure they are passed out properly to each recipient as he or she passes across the stage.
That translates into thousands of students, approximately 3,600 for the three mid-year ceremonies later this week. The process involves even more students for the traditional spring ceremonies, which now require five separate ceremonies over a two-day period.
Carter is himself an Aggie and the recipient of two degrees in earlier days: a BBA in marketing in 1965 and a master’s in management the following year.
He began his almost five-decades of service as a graduate assistant. He got his start in the registrar’s office under the university’s longtime and legendary registrar, H. L. Heaton, a familiar name to thousands of former students who fondly call themselves “Ol’ Ags” and whose name now graces the building that formerly housed the registrar’s office.
Carter says his most memorable experiences as registrar “have been seeing the joy and anticipations as our students step on to the stage to receive their diploma from our president.”
He has worked under the administrations of nine presidents, beginning with Gen. Earl Rudder, who is widely credited with laying the groundwork for the emergence of Texas A&M into the national tier-1 research institution that it is today — and with a student body that ranks among the six largest in the United States.
The university’s current president, R. Bowen Loftin a 1970 Texas A&M physics graduate, making him one of the some 340,000 former students whose diplomas were handed out since Carter has been in the registrar’s office — calls Carter “an Aggie icon.”
“Don Carter has seen more change in Aggieland than almost anyone. One thing has remained constant, however, and that has been Don Carter. Our commencement ceremonies are truly special for our graduates and their families because of the tireless work of Don and his team,” Loftin observes. “He will certainly be missed, but I am confident that his legacy and the high standards that he has set will serve us well for years to come and solidify his status as an Aggie icon.”
What’s in store for Carter when he formally retires Dec. 31? He says he plans to polish his golf game, do a bit of traveling and “smash his alarm clock.”
One thing he doesn’t plan to do is stray far from his beloved Aggieland. He says he might even attend a graduation ceremony or two — just to see how it looks from the audience.