While COVID-19 derailed plans for in-person Convocation this spring, McGill staff dedicated themselves to creating the best possible remote celebration. Judging by the response, with thousands of people tuning in from around the world to watch the premier broadcast of each of the 10 ceremonies on June 18 and 19, the effort was well worth it.
“The whole ceremony was beyond my expectations,” says Réginal Labonté, who graduated with a Bachelor in Civil Law and a Minor Concentration in Sociology. “The team behind Convocation did a terrific job with the video presentation on YouTube, it must have taken a lot of time and energy to come up with a final product of such quality.”
Labonté was one of over 3,100 graduating students who registered to participate in Virtual Graduation. Each ceremony lasted between 20 and 40 minutes depending on the number of graduating students in each faculty. The live chat drew over 1,600 comments of love and encouragement from around the world.
“Most, if not all, cherished traditional moments in a ‘normal’ Convocation ceremony were part of the virtual ceremony such as the bagpipes, the McGill anthem and speeches from the Chancellor and the Principal,” says Labonté, who also called the messages from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault “a good surprise.”
Multiple viewing parties
Like so many other graduating students at McGill and around the world, Hawa Maiga was upset when she found out that there would be no in-person Convocation this spring.
“At first, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to celebrate with friends and family on campus but I completely understood why it was impossible to host an in-person convocation ceremony,” says Maiga, who earned a BA Joint Honours, Political Science and International Development Studies with a Minor in Classical Studies. “However, once they announced that there would be an alternative virtual ceremony, I was very relieved that the school was planning to prepare something that would allow graduates to celebrate the end of our degrees.”
The virtual ceremony had the added bonus of being able to viewed multiple times – making it possible to have more than one celebration. “I actually had two ceremonies: one at home with family, and another with friends over a video call,” says Maiga.
“Despite being brief, the virtual ceremony allowed graduating students, like myself, an opportunity to think back on what we accomplished and to formally celebrate the ending of this chapter in our lives,” she says. “It was a great way to take the time to celebrate and recognize what we achieved.”
Option for in-person ceremony next year
Labonté’s viewing party also took place at home with his family. Like Maiga, he was disappointed when he heard on the in-person ceremonies being shelved this spring. But he was heartened when Principal Suzanne Fortier announced that the Class of 2020 also had the option of participating in in-person Convocation next year.
“Convocation is meant to be a collective event where the graduating class celebrates its achievements and progress throughout the degree,” he says. “It is even more true in small Faculties like Law where we (students, faculty and staff) all know each other. In the last 3.5 – 4 years, we did everything together. It was very hard to imagine and turn my head around a socially distant Convocation ceremony. When I heard the virtual ceremony was meant to be a complement to an in-person ceremony next year, it was much easier to see its positive sides.”
In many ways, Virtual Convocation was a fitting end to a turbulent winter semester as it showcased the resilience, pluck and get-it-done attitude of McGill students, staff and faculty.
“All in all, remote classes worked well. At first, the sudden adaptation we all had to go through was a huge challenge, especially for someone like me who is more used to studying at libraries on and off campus or coffee shops rather than at home,” says Labonté. “My professors, the Faculty of Law and the Sociology Department were up to the challenge and very understanding throughout the crisis and beyond.”
“At first, it was difficult to adapt to the online learning method while also handling the different ways we were all affected by the pandemic,” says Maiga. “However, many professors were accommodating which relieved a lot of additional anxiety and stress during finals.”
Valuable friendships, inspiring professors
As with many new grads, Maiga has had to put some of her job prospects on hold due to travel restrictions. But that hasn’t slowed her down.
“I have been busy working on a local campaign addressing systemic racism in our justice system,” she says. “I plan on starting a Master’s degree in 2021 and look forward to eventually starting a career in public policy and human rights.”
“My time at McGill has been extremely influential in my personal and professional development,” she says. “I was able to learn so much both inside and outside the classroom that I know will help me in my future career. I have made incredibly valuable friendships and have been inspired by amazing professors.”
Addressing the needs of minority communities
Form his part, Labonté has his sights set on becoming a litigator. “McGill has taught me a great deal about Law and Sociology, but most importantly, about how to use what I learned here to make this world a better one,” he says.
While the education McGill offers can be a powerful tool for change, Labonté says the University must also turn its focus inward.
“The recent events in the U.S. and the protests around the globe on systemic racism must encourage McGill to continue its efforts towards Equity, Diversity and Inclusion issues on campus,” he says. “The institution has to continue its dialogue with Black and Indigenous students, staff and faculty to make sure its policies and actions addresses the needs of these communities. At the wake of its Bicentennial, McGill has a duty towards these minorities to never leave them behind ever again.”