Convocation is a time of great pride for the extended McGill community – from the graduating students and their friends and family, to University staff and faculty who have played such important roles in the individual journey of each student. It brings together people from around the world to celebrate the singular achievements of each member of the graduating class.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 made it impossible to hold in-person Convocation ceremonies this year.
But even the pandemic will not stop us from celebrating the accomplishments of the Class of 2020.
On June 18 and 19, McGill will host 10 virtual Convocation ceremonies – one for each Faculty. Each virtual ceremony will have three components: video, web, and social media. Everyone, including McGill staff and faculty, are encouraged to tune in.
For the video component there will be 10 pre-recorded videos, one for each Faculty with the exception of Health Sciences, which will include the Faculties of Dentistry and Medicine. The videos will “premiere” sequentially, with five ceremonies on each day – the first one starting at 11 am and the last one starting at 3 pm. People can view the ceremony schedule on the Convocation website.
“Each ceremony video will be between 20 and 40 minutes long, depending on the number of graduates, and includes elements normally included in an in-person ceremony such as traditional music, speeches from the Chancellor and the Principal, a Convocation address, conferral of degrees by the Provost, and more,” says Heidi Emami, Associate Registrar, Records, Exams & Convocation, Enrolment Services. “We used the order of proceedings from our in-person ceremonies as inspiration to create an updated version for these videos.”
“We have created a new website that will be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for the Virtual Ceremonies,” says Robyn Obermeyer, Interim Associate Director, Communications, Office of the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning). “This website will be where graduating students, their family and friends, and all members of the McGill community can watch the Virtual Ceremony videos as they premiere.”
Taking into account the University community is now spread out over the world and across different time zones, the website will also have links to the videos for later viewing.
“Alongside the Ceremony videos will be an aggregated social media feed that will be curated from our official Convocation hashtags: #McGillGrad, #McGillGrad2020, and #McGillVirtualConvocation,” says Obermeyer “This feed will be continually updated over the course of the two days as new content is posted on social. Other resources on this website will include a Grad Party Pack which features printable posters and photo props for a DIY at-home McGill photobooth, and the Convocation Programs which can be printed as keepsakes of the day.”
Taking its cue from the in-person ceremony, each Faculty video will feature the graduates’ names and degrees and will signify the virtual moment when the graduate would be crossing the stage.
The Chancellor and the Principal will each deliver an address and the Provost will confer the degrees. As well, the Dean of each Faculty will have a message.
Finally, as announced earlier today, Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (MDCM’18) will deliver the Convocation address. Dr, Duvernay-Tardif has had a busy 2020, becoming the first MD to win a Super Bowl championship, before returning home and volunteering to work in a long-term care facility on the South Shore.
“We also gave graduating students the opportunity to submit a photo for the video, which will display in a montage after the list of names,” says Obermeyer. “We hope that this will allow for recognition not just of our students’ accomplishments, but of the time they’ve spent at McGill and the memories they’ve made here.”
“All graduating students have been invited to watch their ceremony as it premieres on its designated date and time. We are also encouraging graduates to post photos on social media leading up to and during their ceremony premiere time, using the materials in the Grad Party Pack and our official hashtags.”
Emami and Obermeyer are quick to point out that Virtual Convocation is not a replacement for the in-person ceremony.
“Since this is the first time that we are holding a virtual Convocation we wanted it to be a moment to acknowledge and celebrate our graduates’ achievements while understanding that it doesn’t replace the in-person event,” says Emami. “As the Principal mentioned in her message to the community on April 24, the Spring 2020 in-person Convocation ceremonies have been postponed to Spring 2021. We are currently working on determining when these ceremonies can be scheduled during the Spring 2021 Convocation season and are hopeful that we can get together at that time safely to celebrate our Class of 2020 graduates in person.”
Emami says they are encouraging graduates to have McGill hold on to their diplomas so they can receive them at the postponed in-person ceremonies in Spring 2021. “We heard from student feedback that receiving their diplomas at the in-person ceremony was a significant and appreciated moment that many students might want to retain,” she says.
Consultation – especially with graduating students – was an important part of the planning process. A Convocation Feedback form helped determine what components of Convocation were deemed most important and how graduates felt about a virtual versus an in-person ceremony. The form also had a section for comments.
“We received close to 1,500 submissions, the majority from graduating students, and the feedback was overwhelmingly for holding the in-person ceremonies even if they were held at a later date,” said Obermeyer. “We also held a small focus group with graduating students and their comments and feedback were very helpful. We heard clearly from the Class of 2020 that a virtual ceremony doesn’t replace the in-person experience, but that it can act as a marker in time to close this chapter of their lives. This is really what we’re trying to deliver with the virtual event.”
Organizing Virtual Convocation was uncharted territory for the team – not just in terms of the actual event, but also in the way the team operated.
“I think the main challenge we had to overcome was the very short timeframe we had for doing this work. It required all of us to think on our feet and come up with creative solutions to produce an engaging and large-scale virtual event in just a few months’ time,” says Obermeyer. Since this is the first Virtual Convocation McGill has produced, it also required developing processes, assets, and communications from scratch – all in a virtual context. We had a lot of MS Teams meetings, that’s for sure!”
Emami, who has been involved with Convocation since 2005 (“definitely one of the most gratifying aspects of my role”), says none of this would have been possible without a supreme collective effort.
“We were able to bring together an amazing group of colleagues from within McGill with the necessary skills and expertise to plan and create the videos, the website, and the social media strategy,” she says. “These colleagues have put a tremendous amount of work and care into designing this event in a very short timeframe, and we are immensely grateful for everyone who put time aside from their regularly busy schedules to help give our graduates the send-off they deserve.”
For more information, visit the Convocation website
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