Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Making convocation memorable

[Students who have just graduated]Graduates and classmates gather together for a photo following the first convocation ceremony of 2014 at Queen’s University, held at Grant Hall on Thursday, May 22.

This article was originally printed in the July edition of Queen’s Gazette. You can get your copy at newsstands around campus.

By Andrew Carroll, Gazette Editor

Each convocation season, Queen’s University’s Kingston Hall is filled with the furling of robes, nervous glances as students try to locate a room and, more than anything else, the beaming smiles of realizing that they have done it.

They are about to graduate.

It’s one of those big life moments.

Every graduate remembers their convocation ceremony.

And there’s an army of people working behind the scenes to make sure that convocation goes off without a hitch.

Organizing and running the convocations – 21 in the spring and another four in the fall for 2014 – is the responsibility of the University Registrar’s Office. It’s a responsibility that is taken very seriously.

“It’s both a celebration of individual achievement but also the sort of face of the university, the institutional personality,” says John Metcalfe, University Registrar.

Convocation is a massive endeavour and the registrar’s office isn’t alone in making the whole thing work. As Dr. Metcalfe points out, practically every unit in the university is involved, from the various faculties making the final graduate lists to Physical Plant Services, which brings in mobile air-conditioning units to ensure Grant Hall stays at a comfortable temperature on those hot, early June days.

On the surface, each ceremony may look rather simple – students arrive, get their robes, enter the hall, receive their diplomas and leave. But the reality is anything but.

“It’s a logistical nightmare really. It looks great from the outside but it’s getting it to happen, there are a lot of details to make it work,” Dr. Metcalfe says.

The process is ongoing throughout the year and there are many, many tasks to take care of – booking the dates, arranging honorary degree recipients, printing off diplomas, checking to make sure each name is spelled correctly, and on and on.

It may take hours upon hours to make sure everything is in place, that everyone is ready, and it is tiring. Still, the focus of each ceremony is on the graduands.

“It is the day for the students and for their families and we don’t want anything to mar that,” says Barbara Emorine, Associate University Registrar for Records and Services. “No matter how tired you are this is their day and you want to make it as special and worry-free as possible.”

It is the day for the students and for their families and we don’t want anything to mar that. No matter how tired you are this is their day and you want to make it as special and worry-free as possible.

Barbara Emorine, Associate University Registrar for Records and Services

Toni Ferguson, Assistant to the University Registrar, adds that a key trait for those working on convocation is “the ability to remain calm.” Things will go wrong, such as a name card going astray, but there are measures in place to handle any situation. A faculty member will be brought in to work with the student and the registrar’s staff, and a resolution will be sought.

“You want them to be able to look back on the day and go ‘What a great day,’” says Ms. Emorine

Staff, including casual workers who work specifically for convocation, are also ready to handle smaller details such as wardrobe malfunctions. A safety pin to hold a robe together, glue for a broken high heel. A minor mishap, perhaps, from the outside, but something that can make the difference for the graduand on the big day.

Each convocation ceremony is a big event for the university itself, as well. As Dr. Metcalfe explains, the ceremony is supposed to transmit to the graduating class, and the parents and the members of the public the values of the university.

“It’s a way of the university affirming to itself what it’s up to, what it’s about, why it exists, why it continues,” he says.

For those involved in convocation, there is a pride in the work that goes into making the day special for students, and their family and friends.

“You certainly get a lot of perks along the way that are extremely motivating. So even if it’s been a bit frenetic, you will have those communications with the special hooders and either the hooder or the hoodee, for example. It’s so motivating because they’re so excited and you just feed off that. It always drives home the fact that it is about them,” says Ms. Ferguson.