New wrinkles to age-old Convocation tradition

Registrar Kathleen Massey sounds remarkably chipper for someone who is responsible for planning Convocation – one of the most logistically challenging events on the University calendar. Chipper, but not naïve. “We understand that this is a major challenge,” says Massey.

ConvocationBy Neale McDevitt

For Kathleen Massey, University Registrar and Executive Director, Enrolment Services, the upcoming Spring 2016 Convocation feels a bit like another time-honoured McGill celebration. “Many years ago, Enrolment Services (ES) used to organize Convocation before those responsibilities were passed on to the Secretary General’s Office,” she says. “This year, the organization of the ceremonies – from start to finish – is back with ES, so it’s a bit of a homecoming for us as well.”

Taking the reins of Convocation is a huge undertaking, involving everything from negotiating the contract for the tent and producing the convocation program, to organizing ushers and communicating with the honorary degree recipients and other award winners.

McGill Registrar Kathleen Massey. / Photo: Dallas Curow
Kathleen Massey, McGill Registrar and Executive Director, Enrolment Services. / Photo: Dallas Curow

During the interview with the Reporter, Massey sounds remarkably chipper for someone who is responsible for planning one of the most logistically challenging events on the University calendar. Chipper, but not naïve. “ES has always been involved on some level – primarily related to the production of diplomas and preparing the list graduates, so we’re not going into this blindly,” she says. “We understand that this is a major challenge.”

Just how challenging is it? “Imagine planning a party for as many as 3,000 people. Outside. In a tent. Then multiply it 14 times,” says Massey with a chuckle.

Yes, 14 times – not 13. One of the new wrinkles at this year’s Convocation will be an extra Arts ceremony to help accommodate people who want to take it all in.

“We know how important it is for friends and family members to see their loved one walk across the stage live so we’ve added the extra ceremony as well as 200 more chairs in the tent,” says Massey. “The last thing we want to do is to turn people away on this very special day.”

Massey says that a number of changes have been made to the process, changes that will go unseen by most but ones that will improve efficiency and reduce the chance of error. “The ceremony is interesting because in many ways it’s all about the heart but it’s also about protocol,” she says. “It’s a huge moment for everybody and it’s important for us to honour that by getting it right.”

One of the most visible changes to this year’s ceremonies will be the revamped Convocation program. The traditional McGill red cover will be replaced by one that features a recent graduate. Inside, recent alumni will be featured – a different one for each ceremony – and they will offer words of advice to the graduating class.

It is, says Massey, another way to strengthen the connection between graduating students and alumni to their alma mater.

“We want it to be very clearly about the new and young alumni. We want them to see themselves in the publication,” says Massey. “The program is not only a record of the ceremony it’s also an invitation to stay connected with the University. Rather than being the end of their journey at McGill, Convocation is a bridge to continue the relationship.”

Those bridges reach out to the larger McGill community. This year, visitors staying in Montreal for Convocation are being encouraged to stay in McGill residences.

As well, people from the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences will continue to monitor incoming weather to alert Security if weather patterns suddenly change.

Last year, with an ominous front moving in, one ceremony was altered so that students received their diplomas before the speeches. “If the storm was going to force us to cancel the ceremony at some point, we wanted to make sure the students were able to cross the stage and have their moment in the spotlight, because the event is ultimately about the grads and the families,” says Massey. “In the end, everything worked out and the ceremony was held in its entirety. But it’s good to have the flexibility to make changes if need be.”

Massey admits that with each passing day, the pressure mounts. But a lot of that stress has been minimized because of the professionalism and dedication of the ES team. “Heidi Emami [Associate Registrar, Management of Academic Records and Examinations] and her team have taken the lead for this transition. She is working with colleagues in her unit and across Enrolment Services to implement and to organize the ceremonies,” Massey says. “Also, Jocelyne Younan [Associate Registrar, Global undergraduate recruitment and yield strategies] is working with Heidi’s team and Communication and External Relations to produce the Convocation programs. Everyone has been absolutely fantastic.”

Spring 2016 Convocation will begin on May 31, with the Health Sciences ceremony at 10 a.m. and end on June 8, with the Continuing Studies ceremony at 6 p.m. Get the full schedule.