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The annual rite of spring at most institutions is convocation: a coming together to celebrate achievement and excellence. We had 5 ceremonies last week, and they represented another year of success as we watched the graduates cross the stage and we shared the moment with family and friends.

(In an era of digital video and photography, it is hard to guess at how many bytes of information are generated at each ceremony, and what actually happens to all the images and sounds? In the old days, we put the snaps in a photo album or labelled the videotape, and these were dutifully stored in the den for easy access and spontaneous perusal. Now what? Having them on a laptop or on some storage device isn’t the same…or is it just me?).

I have tried to re-think our ceremonies: to have them focus more on the grads and with fewer, shorter speeches. It all starts I think with the music that plays as the audience gathers. I made a playlist that I thought was up-beat, celebratory and appealing to the parents. The rather smug sound guy thought it would appeal more to the grandparents, but he appreciated my effort.

Then there is the matter of the music for the processional. We have used a bagpiper for a while, but I cancelled that: I see no obvious direct connection between KPU and the Scottish people and their culture that would justify using a piper just for the sake of it. “Everyone else uses one” is not a good reason. I opted for Elgar on CD: Pomp and Circumstance #4 – not number 1 which has all sorts of poor connotations with “Land of Hope and Glory” (the WW1 patriotic use of which Elgar hated).

The recessional was Bach: very jaunty and celebratory, but at the last ceremony we had drummers from the Kwantlen First Nation lead us out, and it was very powerful.

For the first time in a long time this year we included a student speaker in the event, and they were all great. We swore off the common practice of inviting a keynote graduate speaker, and unless someone can bring Kurt Vonnegut back to life (his graduation speeches were the best), we won’t be starting.

However, I do like to remind the students that they graduate in the presence of greatness through the honorary degree awards that we offer. We had 4 this spring: Drs. Janet Austin (social enterprise hero), Charan Gill (activist), Susan Davidson (sustainable food pioneer) and George Melville (business genius and philanthropist). They each, in their own way, spoke concisely and graciously to the graduates in accepting their degrees, offering inspiration and advice.

Susan Davidson got us to sit quietly and think:

“Anything I have accomplished or may yet do, has been, and will be, the harvest of our collaborative insights and actions. It is my deeply held belief that the resilient social fabric woven by love, in all its many expressions, is essential to addressing the challenges we face in 2013.

I salute KPU’s vision to move out beyond their ivory towers of academe into the communities they serve. It is indeed an act of courage for you to bestow this prestigious recognition on a local small-scale organic farmer such as myself!

Some have asked what gets me out of bed in the morning. For sure, life certainly isn’t always a bucolic dream at Fraser Common Farm. While cynicism and despair may be understandable, in my view, they are self -indulgent and irrelevant options. Listen to the words of Rumi, 13th Century Persian poet and Sufi mystic:

Sit down and be quiet.
You are drunk,
and this is the edge of the roof.

So, here we are on “the edge of the roof” and in many ways we are drunk, as in unwilling, though hopefully not unable, to step back, reclaim time to think, and  commit to recovery programs from our addictions to fossil fuel consumption, cheap food  and the buy low/sell high commodification of land.”

It was nice to see local politicians attend the graduation: Jasbir Sandhu, Jinny Sims, Dave Hayer (who has just retired as MLA and whose daughter was graduating), Stephanie Cadieux, and Dr. Wendy Johnson from Langley School District 35.

No pithy comments to finish with, just the sense of satisfaction and affirmation that convocation provides to all of us in education, reminding us of the importance of our work and of the wonderful colleagues we are blessed to work with.

Those who organized it all (they are amazing) will take a break and then start planning for the Fall ceremonies, where we will honour  Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair and another local hero, TBA.

Meanwhile, as I offered by way of a salute to the grads:

Live Long and Prosper.

6 Responses

  1. Kathleen Hearty says:

    Hello Dr. Davis,

    I thought the Convocation ceremonies were a great success; it was wonderful seeing the students and their families and friends celebrate such a momentous day. It was good to be back at Kwantlen for the events as well.

    I was disappointed, however, when I found out that we would not have a piper leading the processions this June. I don’t believe a direct connection with Scotland is necessary; pipers and pipe bands these days transcend just being a symbol of Scottish culture and are found world wide in countries as diverse as Denmark, Malaysia, Brazil and Oman, just to name a very few. The piper added a ceremonial flair to our processions which were a bit flat this year with the students marching along in silence.

    Many people mentioned to me throughout the three days of Convocation that they missed the presence of the piper. Is revisiting the decision a possibility at all?

    • Alan Davis says:

      Looks like I will need to do a survey. I personally don’t get it, but others obviously do. So, yes, we will re-visit the decision.

  2. Kevan Phillips says:

    I am pleased that you incorporated a student-centred activity in the graduation ceremony. I maintain that when we, as KPU representatives, are mindful of our learners’ academic and social needs, the students will show their appreciation by supporting KPU.

  3. Alan Davis says:

    Thanks for this Kevan.

  4. Peter Chevrier says:

    Dr. Davis,

    I agree with you about the lack of connection between a piper and KPU. Perhaps we could consider something more modern that would resonate with graduands a bit more and/or maybe involves our music students?

    Also for years I’ve suggested that we allow a graduating student to offer an address (valedictorian, I suppose?) but it was not accepted, which disappointed me considering we’ve always touted ourselves as student-centred – so I’m really happy to see this being done now.

    Also, I like your speeches – not only are they a good length, they are also student-centred, offer some humour, and resonate with the graduands and the crowd.

    Lastly, convocation is the celebration of what is likely the first big task, and likely one of the hardest, a person will do in their life. After 1, 2, 4 or more years of “blood, sweat and tears” (studying and all those goes with it) the graduands deserve a convocation that is not just an event but is a celebration, and not one that KPU uses as an attempt to further the prestige or brand of the university but truly celebrates the students’ successes. Convocation also is an opportunity for faculty and employees to celebrate because in our own ways we contribute to helping those students get to this point.

    It would be good to brainstorm on what else KPU could offer on this day to help everyone (especially the students) further celebrate and create a most memorable experience for everyone.

    As a proud KPU graduate myself….congrats on these great changes to Convocation!

  5. Alan Davis says:

    Thanks peter: we are always working to make convocation better: I’ll thinkout a brainstorm.

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