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Rector at Convocation: Memories that will last a lifetime

The following is the first in a series of three articles by Queen's University Rector Mike Young on his experiences during convocation.

  • [Rector Mike Young]
    Rector Mike Young speaks during one of the Spring Convocation ceremonies held May 22, 2015.
  • [Rector Mike Young]
    Rector Mike Young stands as Chancellor Jim Leech makes his way to the stage in Grant Hall.
  • [Rector Mike Young]
    Rector Mike Young speaks to the gathered graduands and their family and friends at Grant Hall.

Queen’s University does a lot of things really, really well.

A convocation ceremony in Grant Hall serves as one of the best examples of something very special that we have going on at Queen’s. A total of 21 ceremonies in the spring and a handful more in November provide graduating students, and lucky people like me who get to take part, with a magical farewell celebration in our most iconic Queen’s landmark.

Let me give you an idea of what a typical convocation day looks like through the eyes of one of the three folks on stage sitting in thrones:

For the morning ceremonies, which all begin at 10 am, I show up to Kingston Hall’s Red Room with the rest of the Chancellor’s procession at about 9:30 am. I pick up my script for the ceremony (which at this point doesn’t feel entirely necessary as I could recount a ceremony in my sleep) and jump into my Rector robe. After a few moments of getting settled, it is my job as honorary convocation drill sergeant to get our procession into the proper form, ready to enter Grant Hall.

The next part has always been one of my favourites. After we are all set to go, the bagpipes start singing as we line up and watch the students exit Kingston Hall with smiles on their faces as they proceed towards Grant, before following them and their faculty members in attendance. The walk outside from Kingston to Grant Hall is often a time where I reflect on how special the day is for the soon-to-be graduates about to convocate. It is during this walk that I get energized for each and every ceremony, whether it be the first or the 21st.

After the students and faculty have made their way into the gorgeous convocation hall, I get to lead the Chancellor’s procession as the organist plays “Flourish for the Chancellor” – a tune that sends shivers throughout my body every time I hear it – that comes to its apex as I walk up the stairs, reach my seat, and turn around to face graduates and guests. The Chancellor and Principal assume their seats next to me, we sing “God Save the Queen” (a song that I had to pretend I knew the words to for the first dozen ceremonies), and then we sit.

Sitting in that big throne is quite the experience. It’s much more comfortable than you might think, though I’ve yet to figure out where to rest my hands. Sitting on that stage, in that seat, in those robes, is something I can’t properly put into words. Convocation is arguably the happiest day of many graduates’ lives, and I get to be one of the first to congratulate them on their immense accomplishments. As if shaking the hands of our newest alumni wasn’t enough, I also have the honour of speaking at convocation, at which point I will highlight the importance of the support provided by family members and friends throughout one’s university experience.

From students who decide to take a selfie with the Chancellor, to a student last week who was less of a hand-shaker and more of a hugger, to a student overcome with joy and tears in their eyes – it just never gets old or less enjoyable.

Add to this that I get to meet some of Canada’s and the world’s finest individuals when it comes to guest speakers and honorary degree recipients, and I trust it becomes clear – Queen’s Convocation is unlike anything else. As an undergraduate student coming out of my fourth year, it’s especially surreal that I will be watching so many of my classmates walk across that stage.

In my robes, and on my throne, I’ll be waiting – with a huge, uncontrollable smile on my face.

See you soon, class of 2015!

Mike Young is the Rector of Queen's University. He is the 34th person to hold the position.