Operation Convocation: A glimpse into the volunteer effort behind York U’s big event

In June, some 50 staffers stepped away from their desks, donned their most comfortable pair of shoes and headed over to the convocation pavilions at York’s Keele and Glendon campuses. There, they played an important role assisting more than 6,000 students in their journey to becoming York’s newest alumni.

convocation12013 Spring Convocation volunteers at an appreciation event

Late last month, officials at York University took time away from their busy schedules to thank the volunteers for their work to make the 2013 Spring Convocation ceremonies a success.convocationMS

“It is really due to the incredible effort by all of you, an effort which is quite amazing,” said York University’s President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (right). “For our students, and their family and friends who come to the ceremony and enjoy it, very few really sit back, reflect and think about the extent of the engagement of so many people in this event. You have set truly high standards in my opinion, a high standard of performance and quality that are the pride of the entire York University community.”

Each year, Sheelagh Atkinson, manager of Events & Ceremonials, and her team orchestrate the highly sophisticated ceremonies. They are supported by the important work performed by a dedicated group of volunteers. From helping students with their robes and organizing the graduands into processional lines to seating family and friends, supporting guests with special needs and ensuring the walkways are clear, there is plenty of work to be done and Atkinson says York University’s convocation ceremonies could not happen without her crew of intrepid volunteers.

“This [volunteer] group represented more than 29 different units from across the University,” said James Allan, director of alumni, in his remarks delivered at the appreciation event. “There were 13 ceremonies in total, including 12 on the Keele campus and one at Glendon. If you do the math, there were more than 530 volunteer hours that were contributed by staff in order to make convocation happen. It is a huge effort that takes a lot of time and energy and this makes an enormous difference in the lives of every single one of the 6,226 students who walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.”

convocationthanksEvents and Ceremonials staff found a special way to thank Spring Convocation volunteers

convocationhat1York staffers were also in action in other areas, working to ensure that the 12 exceptional individuals celebrated by York University with honorary degrees felt welcomed and appreciated. Dinners and receptions kept many staff members on their toes as they worked to ensure the events were a success. Programs were written and printed, ceremonies recorded, and broadcast and memorable moments captured in internal and external publications. The University campuses were given some spit and polish by grounds crews, while security and parking staff worked their magic to keep thousands of visitors happy. Students are the focus of this pan-University effort and it is one of the happiest times of the year. “The University community really comes together around convocation. It is great to see so many different groups represented,” said Allan.

Two longstanding volunteers, Kerri Miller and Aaron Doupe, took part in the thank-you event. The duo polled other volunteers and offered a glimpse into how staffers feel about their role in York University’s convocation effort.

During her “day job”, Miller is the note-taking coordinator for Physical, Sensory and Medical Disability Services in Counselling and Disability Services. Doupe is the manager of student affairs in the Office of Student Services at Glendon.

“When we were asked by Sheelagh to speak we decided to ask other volunteers about their experiences, “said Doupe.

“Convocation is a wonderful way for students to celebrate their achievements and those of their peers. It allows parents, family and friends of the students to show how proud they are. To this end, I want to help make the day a success. It is also a time for York University to show itself in its best light, and if I can help achieve that goal in any way then it makes me feel good too. Convocation is one of the highlights of the school year.” Dianne Jenner, graduate program administrator, Communications and Culture program, Faculty of Graduate Studies.

kerriaarronKerri Miller and Aaron Doupe

“Convocation is hustle, bustle and excitement. It means long hours and sore feet. It means that I will get to see some of the students for the last time. It means I get to smile and say, ‘Happy graduation.’ It means that I get to see fancy dresses and high heels and smiles and smiles. It means that I get to make one last impression on the students about how important York University is and how much we care about our students and want them to do well and feel valued.” Barb Wells, executive assistant to the associate vice-president academic, Faculty of Graduate Studies.

“As volunteers, it means we make a difference in the lives of our students, and since it is the day of their transition to the real world, we make it a special day. We are opening the doors for our graduates and their families to new things in their lives. At the same time, we are strengthening the concept of community. We work separately on a daily basis and we get together for a special event. We meet people who work in other sections and Faculties and we reinforce our ties to the University.” Patricia Munoz, administrative assistant in the departments of English, Sociology and Philosophy at Glendon College.

“Convocation is a very proud moment for everyone. We work really closely with students at Glendon so we get to know them quite well. Convocation is a special time for us and we are very happy to see the students cross the [convocation] stage,” said Doupe about his personal experience as a longstanding volunteer speaking for the Glendon volunteer corps. “We are happy that they have succeeded, especially those who have overcome really significant hurdles to get their degrees. On the staff side, I personally love connecting IjadeConvocationwith so many folks from across the University and it is especially great to meet new colleagues.”

Office of the President Chief of Staff Ijade Maxwell shows off her decorated mortarboard hat

Miller summed up the many sentiments expressed: “My experiences while volunteering at the convocation ceremonies are never dull, always entertaining and forever rewarding. Convocation is a mix of emotion, excitement, joy, pride, hope, love and sometimes tears. Convocation is a time when as a community, we are all together. Faculty, staff, administrators, guests and students.”

The volunteer appreciation event finished with a competition featuring staff-designed mortarboard hats.

Fall Convocation ceremonies are just around the corner! If you would like to volunteer for convocation, visit the volunteer sign-up form to register your interest.

Created with flickr slideshow.