Faculty: you should attend your institution’s graduation ceremony, it’s great

Last week I attended the University of Calgary convocation–the graduation ceremony–for the Faculty of Science.* I didn’t used to. When I was first hired at Calgary, and for many years after, I didn’t attend convocation. I didn’t see any point in going to a boring two hour ceremony, the bulk of which would consist of watching students I didn’t know walk across the stage. I also thought I was too busy.

I was wrong on all counts.

I only realized I was wrong a few years ago, when a colleague told me that she always attends convocation. Because there’s no prouder feeling you can have as a professor than seeing students–especially, but not exclusively, the ones you taught–receive the degrees they worked so hard to earn. And because it really means a lot to the students to be able to shake hands with the professors they know as they finish crossing the stage. She was right.**

A graduation ceremony also reminds (and reinforces) to everyone in attendance how valued and valuable the college or university is as an institution. That’s a really enjoyable–and important–thing to remember. It’s pretty easy to forget that as you go about the day to day business of being a prof.

Plus, convocation is not even boring, honestly. The bit where the students walk the stage as their names are called is basically people watching for the audience. I find it relaxing. And it helps that Calgary does it right and encourages audience members to cheer as students walk the stage, rather than making everyone sit in somber silence.

So now I always attend convocation, and if you’re a prof I encourage you to do so too.*** I acknowledge that there are other, private ways for you to mark the graduation of the students whom you know. But they aren’t mutually exclusive with attending convocation. And it’s understandable if you feel as I once did–that it would be boring and you’re too busy. But if you feel as I once did, then I think you’re the sort of person who would benefit most from attending. You need a reminder of how awesome it is to be part of an institution that’s bigger than any one person and makes the world a better place. Attend your institution’s convocation; you won’t regret it. 🙂

*Calgary is a big university, we subdivide the graduating students into several convocation ceremonies.

**Also, this generation of students grew up on Harry Potter, so they all love academic robes. Their graduation ceremony is the closest they’ll ever get to being in Hogwarts. 🙂

*** “Encourage” is a key word here. I’m not slamming any prof who doesn’t attend convocation. This post is meant as encouragement of the sort my colleague once gave me, not as criticism. Nobody should use this post as an excuse to go onto social media and rip anybody. (And I assume and hope nobody would, but just in case…)

10 thoughts on “Faculty: you should attend your institution’s graduation ceremony, it’s great

  1. Agreed on all counts. Also, when you see and hear how thrilled some families are to see their children graduate, it is a valuable reminder that not everyone takes college for granted, and that graduating truly is an important achievement.

  2. I’d like to go regularly, though it’s been a struggle with my kids being little. But, now that they’re getting a bit older, I’m hoping to go more. I even finally went ahead and ordered some regalia so that I could be in Spartan green at commencement — but then something got messed up in the process and the order got canceled. Sigh. Now I’m back to trying to convince myself it’s worth getting regalia. (I can use borrowed/rented regalia, which is what I did for the one commencement I’ve attended so far. But I love, love, love seeing all the different colors of regalia at the ceremony and you lose that with rented generic black.)

    My undergrad research mentor, Nelson Hairston, Jr., came to my commencement. It meant so much to me that he did, and it was so fun to see him in his regalia (which, if my memory is correct, was actually his dad’s regalia).

  3. I’ve never missed one – it is actually pretty much compulsory at my current institution – at my former Institution, Imperial College, I was a rarity. When I first started at IC, Graduation was only open to Senior Lecturers and above; when I left, they were desperately inviting Teaching Fellows to try and fill the stage 😦

  4. Amen! I think there are two departments in my college where most/all of the faculty attend (mine being one of them), and it’s wonderful for us, the students, and their families. Our department lines up as the students exit the stage after doing the diploma handshake, and we all give them a hearty congrats as they head back to their seats. And then we have a departmental reception, where we get to meet families afterwards, and we distribute awards to undergraduates for research, academic performance, and service.

    • Yes, we have a departmental reception after convocation as well, for graduating students and their families. No awards are handed out (the departmental research awards are a separate event), but the Head of Dept. gives a short speech. Sometimes we invite back an alum to give a short speech as well. And we take pictures of the graduating students and profs from each major program (our dept. offers several majors). It’s very nice, I’ve been attending it for much longer than I’ve been attending convocation. It’s especially nice to get to meet the parents of the students whom you know.

  5. Agreed. When I ran a Masters degree program I would make a point of going to the graduation, even though I would often have had very little interaction with the students themselves (most of their time was spent embedded in research labs). I expect most of them didn’t even notice or recognise me but that didn’t matter. Seeing them all file past on the stage was a helpful reminder that all the administration and work behind the scenes ultimately translated into a group of young scientists launching their careers.

  6. Congratulations! Good post! I love this events… And I agree with you, it’s a unique time for students and their families.

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