With three months to go before spring convocation, Geraldine Jones realized she was about to have 3,000 disappointed graduands on her hands. Brock University effectively closed its campus on March 13 due to COVID-19 and Ms. Jones, the university’s registrar and associate vice-president of enrolment services, knew that pandemic-related public health measures in Ontario wouldn’t be lifted in time for the usual ceremony.
“This is a milestone,” Ms. Jones says. “We have a population of students who have worked so hard and this is the culmination of everything they’ve been working for over a number of years. To not celebrate that in some fashion was just not an option.”
But how do you recreate the pomp and circumstance of convocation without graduates crossing a stage in cap and gown? It’s a challenge each university in Canada has had to grapple with this spring. At Brock, the solution Ms. Jones’s team came to is a mix of digital and do-it-yourself.
On June 19, when more than 3,000 students are scheduled to graduate in absentia, Brock will host its first virtual convocation with the launch of an online portal where each member of the class of 2020 will find a personalized website. The sites come with messages from university administrators, a video from convocation speaker Paul Martin and a “celebration toolkit” of digital banners, frames, filters and stickers to decorate social media posts. The university will also ship graduates “convocation-in-a-box,” a branded parcel with the student’s degree parchment, a convocation program, a letter from the university president, an alumni pin and magazine, and a bag of “Class of 2020 confetti” – a nod to Brock’s admissions package, which comes with “welcome confetti.”
Ms. Jones expects some of these new additions will become Brock traditions going forward. “Even once we’re in a world that allows for us to get together, we still have the reality of students who sometimes aren’t able to attend a ceremony,” she says. “Hopefully we have legacies that we can carry on into the future in thinking about how the world is changing, how much more of a global space that we’re living in.”