Taking the Convocation show on the road

Posted on Thursday, June 7, 2012

This year, graduating students got a hockey-player’s-eye-view from rink level during Convocation ceremonies at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens. / Photo: Owen Egan

Ceremonies held on campus since 2004 moved to Bell Centre, Centre Mont-Royal

By Jim Hynes

The news that McGill would be moving its Spring 2012 Convocation ceremonies away from the lower field of the downtown campus and indoors to the Bell Centre and the Centre Mont-Royal was met with mixed reactions. Many were disappointed, and some even expressed anger at the decision. Most people, however, understood, tempering any disappointment they may have felt with the knowledge that the ceremonies might well have been disrupted by the ongoing protests and demonstrations in Montreal. In other words, better safe than sorry.

Then there are the people behind Convocation, staff members at the University Secratariat and the Registrar’s Office charged with organizing McGill’s signature event every year who had no choice but to hit the ground running once the decision was made.

“Basically we had to transfer four or five months of planning into one week,” said Pauline Frixione, Convocation and Chief Returning Officer at McGill’s Secretariat. “Luckily we are doing it with the support of many people.

After the shock of having to move Convocation wore off, the first thing organizers needed to do was find a venue that was available to host approximately 2,800 graduates and their loved ones in 11 ceremonies over a five-day span.

“When we found out the Bell Centre was available the next step was to negotiate something that was favourable for the University,” said Frixione, who’s been running Convocation since 2004, the year the ceremonies returned to the campus after being held at Place des Arts (which remains the home of Fall Convocation) and the Tomlinson Fieldhouse for many years.

“The Bell Centre has been very accommodating,” Frixione said. “They are very well-equipped to put on shows like Madonna and Lady Gaga. So I don’t think that our ceremonies, as important as they are, are difficult for them.”

One challenge was to transform what is most often used as a hockey rink and concert venue into a more intimate setting, and then stamping it with the McGill look.

“We tried to overshadow the [Montreal] Canadiens as much as we could, considering it’s their home,” she laughed.

And the organizers succeeded. Despite the different venue, the ceremonies still have all the traditional elements to them, like bagpipers leading the processions, and red and white decorations, flowers and flags – all the things people have come to enjoy about McGill Convocation.

What’s more, a good number of students and their families have made their way back onto campus, using its springtime glory as the backdrop for photos.

The two ceremonies not held at the Bell Centre are Friday’s Faculty of Law event (10 a.m.) and the Schulich School of Music Convocation (2 p.m.). With fewer graduates than the other ceremonies, they will be held in the more intimate Centre Mont-Royal (2200 Mansfield St.). But everything else about them, from the pipers to the McGill colours, will be the same as the other ceremonies.

“Our goal was for the graduating students, their family and friends to have a similar experience to what they would have had on campus,” Frixione said.

The decision to move the ceremonies was officially announced in a message to the McGill community from the Secratariat on Monday, May 28. It was followed two days later by an email message from Principal Heather Munroe-Blum.

“This was a difficult decision, and one we did not make lightly. The decision to move the ceremonies was made after engaging a measured assessment of the need, first and foremost, to ensure that we have safe, uninterrupted ceremonies,” the Principal said.

Webcasts of all of McGill’s 2012 Spring Convocation ceremonies can be viewed at: http://bcooltv.mcgill.ca/ListRecordings.aspx?CourseID=6616

 

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