Eduvation Blog

End-Times & Commencements

Good morning, and happy Meteor Watch Day! (An asteroid impact today would somehow not seem entirely inappropriate …)

The 15th month of the pandemic is now behind us, and as June comes to a close it has been positively apocalyptic for many people. The COVID19 pestilence continues to ravage the southern hemisphere. (See Monday’s “Dog Days of COVID.”) Canadians have collectively experienced the traumatic revelations at former residential schools in Kamloops BC and Marieval SK (and sadly, we know there will be many more in the months ahead). A heat wave has brought inferno-like temperature to Western Canada, and Acadia students are reliving a Hitchcock movie.

It’s tough for Canadians to wholeheartedly embrace Canada Day celebrations tomorrow, just as uncertainty about post-pandemic life and employment cast some shade on thousands of sunny convocation celebrations across North America. But before this extended July 1 weekend, it seems only appropriate to recognize some notable CdnPSE efforts at positivity in the face of challenging times…



Apocalyptic Times?

As if a year-long, almost biblical pestilence weren’t enough to put us in mind of the end-times, climate change is collapsing coastal condos, a plague of locusts (well, cicadas) is descending upon much of North America, flocks of crows are attacking students in Atlantic Canada, and drought-like conditions are starting to cook us alive…


Trial by Fire in BC

Unseasonably warm weather has made June almost a literal trial by fire. Across the country, most of us have been complaining about unseasonably hot and humid weather: it feels more like August than June here in southern Ontario. But the rest of us can hardly complain, when all-time temperature records are being shattered day after day in British Columbia. Lytton, 200km north of Vancouver, reported 46.6°C on Sunday, a new all-time high for Canada. High temperatures continued Monday and Tuesday, forcing many K-12 systems and PSE institutions to shutter. SFU cancelled all in-person and remote classes due to extreme heat, and rescheduled mid-term exams. uVic said no-one would be required to work, on-campus or remotely, “unless absolutely necessary.” VIU shared tips on hydration and staying cool, advising that some air-conditioned buildings would be open for shelter from the heat. Even in the mountains of BC’s interior, temperatures have been rivalling the desert heat of Los Vegas.


Quoth the Ravens…

Although many CdnPSE campuses are overrun by bunnies or geese, now flocks of birds are re-enacting scenes from Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. Acadia U’s department of safety and security made national and international headlines this week, with its warning of crows with “excellent memories” who were “acting aggressively towards persons on campus, particularly when carrying food.” Staff and students are warned not to carry open food or wear shiny objects, to carry umbrellas or wear hats when possible, and to “make eye contact with the crow.” (Although sadly, some convoluted syntax left many readers incorrectly thinking the advice was to avoidmaking eye contact.) Explained one Washington expert: “Crows on college campuses get used to being fed, and a lot of times that’s intentional, and a lot of times it’s not, because students are messy and they leave garbage everywhere.” (She also dismisses the warning about “shiny things” as a popular misconception.)  Acadia U  |  National Post  |  Vice



Subdued Canada Day

It’s a challenging year to celebrate Confederation, as Canadians have had recent sobering reminders of racial injustice and cultural genocide that have been entangled in our nation’s history. From coast to coast, political and campus leaders are striving to balance national pride in Canada Day with recognition of Indigenous tragedies, from missing and murdered women to residential schools. Here are a couple of early examples…


Algonquin College president Claude Brulé urged the campus community to spend time on Canada Day to reflect on the tragic discoveries at residential schools in Kamloops and Marieval, and “strengthen our commitment to be better allies” by reading the TRC recommendations: “This is an opportunity to educate, and acknowledge how Canada can play a role in our future by reconciling the past. At the College, we can play a part in building a country based on empathy, education, and mutual understanding.”  AC


Niagara College president Sean Kennedy wrote that the unsettling discoveries of unmarked graves remind us of the urgency of truth and reconciliation, “and why we must grow and push our society forward; as that is the essence of lifelong learning – both individually and collectively.” Campus flags will remain at half-staff, and Kennedy urges the NC community to take “time to reflect on these unsettling truths, and acknowledge and share in the profound grief that Indigenous people… are experiencing.”  NC


“As we approach Canada Day, I hope you will take time to reflect on these unsettling truths, and acknowledge and share in the profound grief that Indigenous people – including many who are our colleagues and classmates — are experiencing. There is no more important time to stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities, offer support, educate ourselves, and strengthen our commitment to inclusion, equity and social justice.”Sean Kennedy, President, Niagara College



COVID Convocations

Last year, colleges and universities scrambled to cancel or postpone traditional convocations in the face of sudden pandemic disruption, and a variety of approaches to socially-distanced or online graduation ceremonies were attempted. (See my Apr 2020 white paper, “COVID19 & Convocation,” for plenty of examples, from drive-ins and drive-bys to VR and telepresence robots.) After 14 months and innumerable deaths, the reality of the pandemic has permeated our psyches. Despite the prospect of vaccine deliverance this Fall, the second cohort of COVID graduates is mourning the loss of an entire year of social experiences, including in-person convocation ceremonies. They also graduate into a world sobered by social upheaval, economic recession, inflationary pressures and climate change…


Exceeding Expectations

As Universities Canada CEO Paul Davidson writes, “we’re missing the in-person swish of black gowns” but convocation nonetheless marks a momentous accomplishment for the class of 2021. Although “the easy choice for students might have been to press pause” this year, they instead chose progress: “They powered through chemistry at the kitchen counter. They analyzed Chaucer from the bedroom. They learned to build bridges while helping little sisters build Lego houses. And they delivered groceries to help pay the rent.” Thanks to students’ “grit, resilience, and tenacity” – and considerable efforts of faculty and staff – students completed their studies in unprecedented ways. “We can’t pretend it was seamless or that it is the same as before, but that so many have fulfilled the requirements of their degrees and will graduate this year shows the resolve of scholars and educators to carry on.” Universities Canada


“We lost a lot of traditions this year, from celebrating births to mourning deaths. Spare a thought now for the ceremony of convocation.”Paul Davidson, President & CEO, Universities Canada



Avoiding Clichés

No question, commencement speeches and valedictory addresses this year have made frequent reference to unprecedented turbulence, uncertainty, overcoming adversity, resilience and determination. The New York Times went so far as to collect 14 excerpts from spring commencement speeches that didn’t mention the pandemic, such as:


“There’s a saying in the Black community, that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams… You have achieved things that your ancestors would never have imagined.”Deborah Archer, President, American Civil Liberties Union


“Look for heroes not on the silver screen or the pedestal or even at this podium — but at eye level and within reach: the people in your life who have been afraid but done the right thing anyway, who have shown you by example how to be bold. Prize bravery over bravado.”Bina Venkataraman, Editorial page editor, The Boston Globe


“With you, the graduating class of 2021 who have been through so much, we have an opportunity to change the path from one of convenient forgetting and willed amnesia — which is a kind of indifference — to one of reckoning and remembrance in order to contend with our past and shape our future.”Natasha Trethewey, Former US Poet Laureate




In the “beforetimes,” my social media feeds would overflow in June with convocation livestreams and videos, commencement speeches and well wishes from administrators, faculty, staff and valedictorians. In 2021, as virtually all graduation ceremonies have been forced online, the variety and volume have been overwhelming! I confess, I haven’t had time to watch the thousands of 2-hour-long ceremonies institutions have shared. My video consumption has been focused more than ever on those uploads with short durations and compelling thumbnails. But here are a handful of notable, unusual examples to mark this particularly memorable class, and send you off to a well-deserved long summer weekend…



Looking Forward

U Fraser Valley released an early, 3-min “sneak peek” teaser for convocation, including beautiful drone shots of campus and its setting, a land acknowledgement, and nicely edited testimonials from a series of graduands and academics. “Let’s take a second and recognize that this isn’t how we dreamed our convocation would look. But we choose to see the bright side, the silver lining.” Your chair is “way more comfortable than the folding chairs at the usual stadium venue,” you have snacks and family nearby. “Despite all the challenges, we are here… So let’s look forward, let’s celebrate who we have become, and let’s set our sights on our next chapter.”  UFV



Oki and Congratulations

uLethbridge celebrated its class of 2021 with a slick, uplifting convocation video that opens with 3-minutes of sound bites and well wishes from elders, the university president, chancellor and alumni association president before the ceremonial procession begins. (Then comes a 5-minute credit roll of graduates by program.)  YouTube



Drive-In Convocation

In this heart-warming 1-min video, Mount Royal U celebrates the class of 2021 in a series of quiet vignettes and private joy from a drive-through convocation, set to wistful music of piano and strings.  Nice.  MRU



Looking Back and Moving Forward

uMichigan released a dramatic, moving 3-min video in April as “one more look back” at the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, before the class of 2021 “moves forward to change the future.” From the initial shock of the pivot to online, to the stillness and isolation of the empty campus a year later, uMich grads nonetheless have fond memories of moving in as freshmen, socializing and playing football pre-pandemic. Now, their graduation arrives in a box at the doorstep, celebrated with family at home. “No matter where you were, you were always home.”  uMich



Super Hosts

BCIT’s virtual convocation ceremony was a slickly-edited hour-long video affair hosted by alum and 104.9 KISS radio morning show host Kevin Lim. From a super-hero-like opening sequence, Lim “dives in” to a virtual ceremony. (Even if you just watch the first couple of minutes, you’ll be impressed by the humour and production values of the video.) President Kathy Kinloch observes, “you deserve a double acknowledgement for persevering through a pandemic and completing your credential. Congratulations for staying focused on the long term.” By the halfway point, host Kevin Lim offers 3 words of advice: “Ask yourself, Why Not Me? The world is filled with success stories, so why not you?” Then, as befits any superhero movie, the final 30 minutes of the video is an endless stream of credits, “Your Name! – and 3,000 others.”  BCIT



You Are Ready

Centennial College president Craig Stephenson narrates words of inspiration to the class of 2021 in a fast-paced, dramatic, slick 2-min video integrating nature scenes, echoes of pandemic press conferences, and the steady beat of a metronome. “You have done what no other graduating class has been asked to do… You rose to the occasion… You are walking into a new world. One ripe for renewal… Lead with intention, integrity, passion and purpose, adding value to the world around you, building and bridging communities and challenging where inequities remain… It’s time for your next adventure.”  Centennial


Grad from Your Pad

While pretty much every CdnPSE developed online pages and social media campaigns for convocation, Trent U had some of the cleverest branding for its second “#GradFromYourPad.” More than 2,300 graduates celebrated their accomplishments with 3 livestreamed (and now on-demand) video ceremonies, participated in live chats, and added stickers to their social media profiles, as a “positive end to an anticlimactic final year.” Students submitted video of themselves crossing the screen in mortarboards and gowns, in canoes, carrying pets, and otherwise celebrating their big day.  Global



A Look Behind the Scenes

Niagara College leveraged the skills of its broadcasting program, not only to produce 10 top-quality online graduations last year, but to document some of their work in a 7-min behind-the-scenes “recap” video. “Students wanted to hear and see their names on screen,” so all 5,300 names were incorporated. The ceremonies were broadcast live in real time, hosted by the president and vice-president, while graduands engaged in Zoom parties and social media backchannel conversations with each other and with faculty members. Custom social media filters and memes were aggregated in TagBoard, adding exceptional engagement. “We are doing this better than – I am sure of this – better than any college or university in the country.” Ultimately, last year’s NC convocation ceremonies attracted >86,000 views from 80+ countries, and made >2M social media impressions.  NC Encore  |  YouTube



The World Keeps Burning

Sheridan College film grad and award-winning director/videographer Akil McKenzie delivered a strikingly unconventional commencement address, from his opening “Hey what’s up y’all? It’s your boy Akil McKenzie!” But gradually, he conveys a compelling, significant message in just 3 minutes. He reminds us that the world didn’t end in 2012, when speculations about Mayan prophecies were running wild, and it won’t end now. In 2020, “the world looked like it was actually burning,” between human rights, a global pandemic, and political upheaval. But “it’s kind of OK to see the world burn down, because it gives us the chance to rebuild. And we are the generation that will take that fire, and turn it into light.” (Full disclosure: yesterday I sat through the entire convocation ceremony for Sheridan’s Faculty of Arts, Animation & Design, as a proud parent.)  Sheridan


Convocation Dance

Glendon Campus students at York U wanted a happy, celebratory convocation this year, instead of the usual pomp and circumstance of formal ceremonies, so 2 student dance and performing arts clubs helped retell and celebrate the student journey to graduation in a 4-min, bilingual dance video with a compelling beat, tap-dancing, basketball and dynamic camera angles. (And, of course, the obligatory nod to Zoom.) “This is your Glendon moment!”  Glendon



The Dancing Registrar

Vancouver Island U registrar Fred Jacklin opened this month’s convocation ceremonies with an amusing, irreverent 5-min video in which he consults campus leaders for their words of congratulation, gets pelted by a ping-pong cannon, and joins the VIU Mariners Dance Team in a musical number. (Fred, you’re a great sport!)  VIU




To my eldest, to other graduating students, and to the higher ed faculty and staff who have made that possible in this unprecedented time: congratulations on all you have accomplished. Things are going to get better – hopefully very soon – but the lessons and skills we’ve all learned in coping with ceaseless uncertainty and radically different ways of interacting with each other and the world will serve us all well in the future.

 Like many of you, I’m going to take the rest of this week off, but I’ll be back in your inbox next week. Enjoy Canada Day, even with a newfound sense of nuance and responsibility, and stay safe and well this weekend!


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