A pipe band, speeches and more speeches

A look into U of W’s convocation traditions

Ryan Janz

Receiving a diploma is a moment most students look forward to throughout their university careers. But through all the excitement on this special day, students may overlook many of the deeply-rooted traditions of the convocation ceremony.

“[Convocation] is just loaded with tradition. It is the most traditional thing at the university,” said Carol MacKay, convocation officer at the University of Winnipeg.

According to MacKay, the program for convocation has remained fairly consistent over the years.

“The ceremonies are like a carbon copy, one after the other, and they are all pretty much the same,” she said.

To some, these customs are what make the ceremony special.

According to Darcy Duggan, director of university events and special functions at the U of W, there is a certain sentimental value in U of W’s traditions.

Duggan said her favourite part of convocation, and something unique to the U of W, is when the graduates are led onto the stage by the Winnipeg Police Pipe Band.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It sets the stage for the ceremony to come.”

Another important feature of convocation common to all ceremonies is the speeches made by administrative staff and faculty. MacKay said this tends to be the most time-consuming part of the two-and-a-half hour ceremony.

“Some of the speeches ... are fairly long,” she said. “[We] try to encourage them to keep it short, but you add them all together and it takes a bit of time.”

Kathleen Poley, a recent graduate of the U of W, said that during her convocation the speeches seemed to drag on forever.

“When you talk to people after the ceremony ... the general reaction was, ‘God, that was an amazing amount of speeches that really didn’t have anything to do with anything,’” she said.

But Duggan said the speeches are an integral part of the ceremony.

“You don’t want to alter it too much,” Duggan said. “We try to make it as much of a celebration for the students as we possibly can, but there is still a formality to it that makes it a very distinct ceremony.”

Another feature of U of W convocation, which has received some criticism due to its Christian nature, is the prayer of invocation which is recited at the beginning of each ceremony by the dean of theology. Because of the U of W’s past affiliations with the United Church, it is important to include it in the ceremony, according to Duggan.

“It is more a kind of blessing that doesn’t express the sentiments of any particular religion ... but that is inclusive of all faiths,” she said.

Even so, Poley felt the prayer was out of place.

“We are a non-denominational school,” she said. “I did find it inappropriate.”

While it is important to keep old traditions in place, the university has added new traditions to the convocation, including a valedictorian address. The address, MacKay said, was added to the program about 10 years ago to give the graduates more ownership over their ceremony.

“Convocation is for the students, and that is their part of the show,” MacKay said.

Published in Volume 64, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 18, 2010)

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