Operation Convocation: York’s family affair

Lara Ubaldi can’t stop smiling when she remembers her experience volunteering at the Spring Convocation 2006 ceremonies. Now considered a veteran (she’s worked the last few years at convocation ceremonies), Ubaldi, manager, faculty governance & secretary of council at Atkinson, along with other volunteers, worked for six days straight this past June to ensure that this year’s Spring Convocation ceremonies were an affair to remember.

Right: A candid moment from Spring Convocation 2006

“I love convocation!” said a beaming Ubaldi. “It is a fun and very interesting experience and I think it helps all of us at York remember that we are here for a larger purpose. Convocation is probably the most memorable moment for students and their families and I think it is important to be a part of the event and help make it happen.

This past June, Ubaldi and other volunteers stepped away from their desks, searched out their most comfortable pair of shoes and headed over to the convocation tents at York’s Keele and Glendon campuses. There, they played an important role assisting over 5,000 students in their journey to becoming York’s newest alumni.

“Convocation is wonderful because students that I may have helped in my job on campus will often tap me on the shoulder at their ceremony. For me, it is such a wonderful feeling to see them walk across the stage,” said Ubaldi. “I’m the person who seats the students. I make sure their hats are on straight and their gowns are tied up and they have their identification.”

Sheelagh Atkinson, manager, ceremonies and special projects, for York’s Office of Ceremonials, has responsibility for the convocation event. “We rely heavily on the volunteers to help make convocation a success,” said Atkinson. “Each year, core teams of 33 volunteers act as key coordinators. They come from various departments and faculties on campus including Facilities, the Atkinson Faculty Council, Student Community & Leadership Development, Centre for the Support of Teaching, Hospitality York, Glendon College and York’s Mail Services to name just a few. This group meets to manage the project. We then ask for additional volunteers and hire students twice a year to assist with the spring and fall convocations.”

This June, more than 100 students were hired to staff the event. They joined volunteers and worked to ensure that the 10 ceremonies which took place over six days ran flawlessly.

Atkinson said that without support from students, staff volunteers and their managers who release them to work at convocation, the event would not take place. “Volunteers fulfill many important roles,” said Atkinson. “There are so many parts to this complicated event and all must run smoothly.”

A crew of volunteers work at gowning centres to help students with their robes, while others get the students in line and escort them into the convocation tent. Others, like Ubaldi, help students to find a seat on the convocation stage. An additional corps assists families with seating and guests with special needs, while others ensure that exits and walkways remain free of bystanders.

There are also many volunteers like Joseph Sanguedolce, manager of custodial services for Facilities Services, who fulfill key roles behind the scenes, including making sure that the building is safe and secure, directional signage is in place, toilets are clean and doorways are free from obstructions.

Left: Joseph Sanguedolce (left), Sheelagh Atkinson and Lara Ubaldi

“Just call me Radar O’Reilly,” says Sanguedolce. Like the clerk in the television show M.A.S.H., York’s manager of Custodial Services has his finger on the pulse and can make things happen at the drop of a hat. And he did during the six intense – and exciting – days of Spring Convocation. He was the point man when a table needed moving, chairs had to be set up, a toilet needed fixing.

A custodial supervisor at York in the 1990s, Sanguedolce used to help set up for convocation, but this year, as manager, he oversaw the crews that set up the tent, prepared rooms for robing and diploma distribution, cleaned the washrooms, tidied the grounds, made sure signs were in place, cleared walkways and moved furniture. Sometimes you’d see him with a two-radio at one ear and a cell phone at the other fielding requests from the Office of Ceremonies and giving instructions to his staff.

“I just love it,” he said about those 10-hour, action-packed days. “I like being involved. I’ve had a passion for it.” This is the first year he has volunteered and he intends to keep on doing it. “It’s gratifying,” he says. “York is a good employer. I’m thankful for being at York. You have to go the extra mile sometimes.”

York University is now recruiting students who will be hired to work at the fall convocation which takes place Friday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 21. Students interested in applying to work at fall convocation should contact Lisa Bevacqua, administrative coordinator, Office of the President, by e-mail to bevacqua@yorku.ca.

Full-time employees who are interested in volunteering at convocation should contact Sheelagh Atkinson, manager, ceremonies and special projects, by e-mail to sheelagh@yorku.ca.