There will be no in-person convocation ceremonies this spring at York University due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The acute sense of disappointment following this necessary decision was quickly replaced by a focused effort by the University to find a way to help the more than 8,500 graduates celebrate this important milestone.
This week and next, York University students who are graduating this spring will receive a special delivery in the mail in the form of a convocation celebration box. The box will include a student’s diploma, a special program, a cap and tassel, alumni pin and confetti. Students will also be invited to go online with their families and loved ones to enjoy a graduation celebration video including remarks from Chancellor Greg Sorbara, President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton, Vice-President Academic and Provost Lisa Philipps, the dean of their respective faculties, and the ceremonial conferral of their degrees. There are also special messages from Olympian Silken Laumann and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who is a graduate of York University.
The accompanying videos will also include an additional and important milestone. “The singing of the national anthem in English, French, American Sign Language (ASL) and Anishinaabemowin is also a first for York University,” says Liz McMahan, manager, convocation and special projects at York University. “I think we may be the first Canadian university to perform the national anthem in four languages at an academic ceremony.”
The celebration boxes are a way for students to feel proud of their hard work and accomplishments. “Grads will be invited to a future convocation ceremony once we are able to do this safely,” says McMahan. “To allow the graduates flexibility to celebrate with family and friends, there’s no set date for this spring convocation celebration and they can watch the video at a time that works best for them.”
As with many of the new ways of thinking and doing made necessary by social distancing to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, York University’s convocation celebration came together quickly. McMahan quickly assembled a pan-University team of staff to search for unique and interesting ways to mark convocation in the age of a pandemic. The group researched and networked with peer institutions across Canada and the United States through their affiliation with the North American Association of Commencement Officers and decided that a personalized event designed to bring grads together with family and friends in the safety of their homes was the safest, most meaningful and appropriate way to mark this important milestone.
The team set to work sourcing items for the convocation celebration box, including the construction, printing, sourcing of contents and assembly of the boxes. Staff from Marketing and Creative Services in Communications and Public Affairs put together a cornucopia of social media assets, including an Instagram account, contest, playlist and more. The teams from student records, degree audit, student systems, student financial services, and communications in the Office of the University Registrar were mobilized to review and adapt to the new way of approaching graduation. Staff worked harmoniously throughout and showed resilience with the development of new processes, working alongside colleagues in Printing Services who produced diplomas and certificates. Bookstore staff swung into action and spent more than a week working long hours to assemble each box with care and attention. More than 8,500 boxes were put together by 14 staff.
The convocation celebration has come together quickly and with a spirit of collaboration that McMahan says makes her very proud of the York University community. “Convocation always takes a huge collective effort from colleagues across the University, and this year we had to do that in a unique way. While the pandemic may have put a pause on our in-person ceremonies this spring, I hope our graduates feel celebrated and proud of their accomplishments,” says McMahan.
And while the newest members of York University alumni will have already received their degrees, York University will also invite each member of the class of 2020 to attend a future convocation ceremony once the restrictions related to COVID-19 have eased.
To learn more, visit https://about.yorku.ca/grad-celebration/.
By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor