The annual convocation ceremonies at the University of Lethbridge are a campus-wide celebration. While they involve a mountain of work and cross-campus collaboration, there’s a certain rhythm to the system that has been honed and perfected over the years — a sort of rinse, wash, repeat cycle.
When the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down the U of L campus, forced the implementation of an alternate academic delivery model and put an end to public gatherings, Convocation 2020 was suddenly in peril. On March 23, 2020, the University cancelled its in-person convocation ceremonies, scheduled for May 28 and 29.
“The decision was not made lightly,” says Kathleen Massey, the university’s associate vice-president (students). “Watching our students develop throughout their time at the University of Lethbridge and then seeing them cross the stage in cap and gown is an important moment of celebration for them and for us.”
Rather than that being the end of the Convocation 2020 story, it was just the beginning. By the time it was decided to cancel the in-person version of convocation, plans were already being made to find an alternative that would properly fete this remarkable class.
“There was never any doubt that we would find a way to honour this class,” says Chancellor Charles Weaselhead. “Even though this forced us to change our plans, it’s important we still honour our graduating students and acknowledge this significant step in their lives and their academic achievements.”
As with all convocations, it involved a cross-campus effort. The first initiative was the creation of convocation in a box that would be mailed to each of the 1,456 graduating students. Inside the box, graduates find a cap and tassel, their diploma, a commemorative program, an alumni pin, an Indigenous stole for Indigenous students, and honour cords for those who are graduating with distinction or great distinction. Students are encouraged to share their box opening experience, don their caps and take photos or videos of themselves, along with anyone in their bubble, and post it online using #ulethgrad2020 and #ulethalumni.
Recognizing everything was being done virtually, planners knew they had to bring as much of the pomp and pageantry of the annual in-person event online. That meant convocation addresses from President and Vice-Chancellor Mike Mahon and Chancellor Charles Weaselhead. Chee Meng Low of the Faculty of Fine Arts gathered his Wind Orchestra virtually and crafted an amazing recording of the convocation song. And what about the time-honoured traditional parade up the hill, with Chief Marshal Dr. Noella Piquette carrying the University Mace to the glorious sounds of the convocation bagpiper? Thanks to some impressive camera work, they were all incorporated into the official Convocation 2020 video — produced largely by graduating student Austin Knibb (BFA ’20).
“I am very impressed with the amount of effort uLethbridge is putting into convocation and celebrating this year’s graduates, instead of just cancelling the event. All the behind-the-scenes effort is truly commendable and I can tell that uLethbridge truly cares about their students,” says Knibb, who has been working as the digital content creator for the Office of Advancement for 10 months. “In creating the video for virtual convocation, I have personally read the name of every graduate and I feel a lot of pressure to make it special for them.”
Throughout the University’s Lethbridge and Calgary campuses, Faculties and Schools jumped on board to coordinate their own convocation messages, creating video congratulations from deans, faculty members and really anybody who wanted in on the convocation spirit.
“Everybody wanted to find an outlet to celebrate with this class of graduates,” says Heather Fudge, coordinator convocation & student events. “Convocation means so much to so many people on campus. These students have grown so much during their time here on campus and we’ve been with them through everything they’ve experienced. We all feel invested in having them reach this stage of their academic journey. We had to try and make Convocation 2020 as special as we could.”
The week before convocation, a few additional personal touches were added to the celebration. President Mahon, Chancellor Weaselhead and faculty members who nominated this year’s medal winners made socially-distant doorstep visits to those who lived in Lethbridge to hand deliver the convocation boxes to their students.
“To say we’re so proud of this year’s uLethbridge graduates is really an understatement,” says Kathleen Massey, the University’s associate vice-president (students), adding students are invited to return to campus to take part in any convocation over the next three years. “Their accomplishments represent our greatest hopes for them — to be equipped to deal with whatever life throws at them, including a pandemic — and to do it in style, their way, and with success. Congratulations, class of 2020!"