A banner being held at Commencement

Commencement 2014 in Schoellkopf Stadium (Photo by Cornell University)

Hold Those Banners High! Celebrating the Seamstress Whose Talents Enhance Commencement

Retired after four decades as a staffer, this year Linda Lambert wielded her graduation magic from afar—while wintering in Florida

By Beth Saulnier

Linda Lambert at her sewing machine
Lambert in her Florida sewing nook, at work on Cornell Tech’s symbolic banner. (Photo provided)

Linda Lambert is an artist whose medium is cloth and thread. And at Commencement ’22, grads and their guests will once again behold her handiwork: an expert seamstress, Lambert created many of the ceremonial banners that will be carried, with all due pomp, across campus and into Schoellkopf Stadium.

“She is amazing—just amazing,” Connie Mabry, longtime director of the Office of University Commencement Events, says of Lambert, a Big Red retiree who began sewing in fourth grade. “She’s a master craftsman.”

Flash back to a Tuesday in early April: some of those banners are still taking shape in the Central Florida home where Lambert spends her winters.

This year, after a decade-long break, Lambert is making a host of new banners, some representing recently established (or renamed) schools and colleges—including the Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, the Brooks School of Public Policy, and the Nolan School of Hotel Administration.

Lambert’s dining room table has been transformed into a work surface for measuring, cutting, and pinning; part of her bedroom is a sewing room, complete with numerous machines, bins full of fabric, a thread rack affixed to the wall, and special lamps that simulate natural light.

A Cornell indoor commencement ceremony
Banners add pomp and pageantry to Commencement—whether it’s held outdoors in Schoellkopf or (as was this December 2018 ceremony) in Barton Hall. (Photo by Jason Koski / Cornell University)

Some of the banners Lambert is making simply comprise emblazoned words—like the three-by-six-foot one for the SC Johnson College of Business, made up of white letters on a carnelian red background.

Others are symbolic banners, reminiscent of heraldry—such as the Brooks School’s, which currently covers the dining table.

On the left side of the table is the paper mock-up—depicting two hands cradling the Earth, against an aqua background—that was shipped to Lambert from designers in Ithaca; on the right is her cloth version, a pinned work in progress.

She is amazing—just amazing. She’s a master craftsman.

Commencement director Connie Mabry

“It’s artistic,” Lambert—who is noticeably loath to sing her own praises—says of what appeals to her about making the banners, “and I just enjoy sewing.”

A longtime administrative assistant on the Hill, Lambert joined the Cornell staff in 1974, then left after a year or so to drive a tractor-trailer. She returned to the Big Red payroll in 1979, staying until retirement in 2018.

(As a farewell gift, her colleagues gave her—what else?—funds for a new sewing machine.)

A Cornell name banner in progress
One of the name banners, in progress. (Photo provided)

In addition to her admin job, most recently in development sociology in CALS, she has long had a side gig as a seamstress.

She started working with Mabry’s office decades ago, repairing the academic regalia that faculty members don for Commencement; she also does alterations professionally and makes some of her own clothes.

“My biggest challenge in sewing is altering wedding dresses—figuring out how to make one smaller or larger, and getting the fit and look right,” she observes. “They’re so detail oriented.”

Some of Lambert’s work for Commencement ’22 also presented challenges—like properly arranging the many letters on the Hotel school’s name banner. (A new name banner she did for Cornell Tech, on the other hand, was comparatively simple.)

For a colorful panel on the Bowers College’s symbolic banner, she struggled to find just the right shade of chartreuse—until she realized she could create it herself, by layering yellow and blue fabric.

“The banners add pageantry and color as the procession comes into the stadium, and they reflect the mission and the nature of the college,” Mabry observes. “They’re lovely, and they really add to the celebration of the day.”

A close up of a banner with a pinned globe image
The Brooks School banner takes shape. (Photo by Beth Saulnier)

As a staffer, Lambert often volunteered to serve as a Commencement usher. What’s it like to have the fruits of her own labor decorate an Ivy League graduation?

“I’ve always enjoyed Commencement; I’ve been up in the stands and down on the field with the kids,” she says. “I’ve seen some of the banners come by and said, ‘Oh—I did that.’”

Top image: Commencement 2014 in Schoellkopf Stadium (photo by Cornell University)

Published May 24, 2022


Comments

  1. Linda Lambert

    I love the story Beth Saulnier. You make me sound like a star! I never knew writing about me and my love for sewing could sound so good.

    It so kind of Connie Mabry for her words of praise. I have enjoyed sewing for the Commencement Office for many years. Connie is always a pleasant person to work with, even in the days leading up to Commencement.

  2. Terence Looi, Class of 2015

    May we see the banners?

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