Convocation returns to tent Wednesday (Update 8:35 p.m.)

Posted on Tuesday, June 3, 2014
An Arts grad takes a selfie with classmates in Leacock 132 after a violent storm forced the evacuation of the Convocation tent. / Photo: Owen Egan

Arts valedictorian Rebecca Freya Pearl takes a selfie with classmates in Leacock 132 after a violent storm forced the evacuation of the Convocation tent. / Photo: Owen Egan

Wednesday’s Science Convocation ceremonies will go ahead as planned in the tent on the downtown campus’s lower field.

After severe weather forced the evacuation of the tent during the Arts ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, the tent professionals are examining and repairing the tent as needed. It was determined that the tent will be ready for the 10 a.m. ceremony on Wednesday.

The tent was not broken and did not collapse. Some poles were shifted as the result of an extraordinarily powerful storm. Weather conditions for tomorrow are looking much more promising.

The tent will be at capacity for both Convocation ceremonies tomorrow, so there will be no opportunity to re-run Tuesday’s Arts event. However, any Arts student who wishes to repeat their Convocation experience may do so at any Convocation of their choice, in any year, starting this fall. Please contact convocation@mcgill.ca if you wish to “re-convocate.”

We are deeply sorry that some parents and guests will not have the opportunity to watch their sons and daughters cross the stage on this important day, but the violent weather left us with no choice but to relocate the ceremony. There are no halls indoors large enough to accommodate that many people and we must abide by Fire Code regulations. We apologize sincerely to those who were  inconvenienced.

The University would like to thank all those who worked hard to salvage Tuesday afternoon’s event, under trying circumstances. These were exceptional circumstances and exceptional people responded accordingly. Our priority will continue to be everyone’s safety.

Some personal items were left behind in the tent. They have been recovered and are being kept in safe keeping at McGill’s Security Services offices on the main floor of Burnside Hall.

If there are further updates to our Convocation plans, we will post them here as soon as possible, so please check back between now and Wednesday morning.

 

 

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36 Responses to Convocation returns to tent Wednesday (Update 8:35 p.m.)

  1. Laurie says:

    Shameful to have your son or daughter attend your school for 3 to 4 years and not to be able to see them graduate. I feel sorry for the parents who have come in from far away. 3 years ago my son graduated and we were ankle deep in water from the rain. Time to rethink your outside on the campus graduation in a tent. McGill should have a back up plan, not like this is the first time students and parents have had to sit through rain and cold weather. Bring it inside like Concordia does at Place des Arts. Offer a cocktail on the grounds and bring the convocation inside. My son was in the tent today to see his girlfriend graduate, along with her family, shameful that you did not have an alternative plan.
    Not impressed for a school of your stature.

  2. Gab says:

    I was inside that tent today. I am so disappointed of McGill’s handling of the situation. I was unable to even relocate to LEA132 as they were over capacity, so I could not experience the ceremony that I have worked extremely hard for. I believe they should re-do the ceremony the RIGHT way.
    These outdoor ceremonies are ridiculous…
    On another note, the Chancellor of McGill made a very distasteful joke about Arts students and unemployment which left a sour taste in my mouth. Way to perpetuate an awful, untrue stereotype.

    Once again, I am deeply disappointed by this experience at McGill – much like my overall experience.

  3. Susan MacDonald says:

    As a parent who did not get to see her daughter cross the stage today all I can say is that it was a disappointing day for our family. I think McGill needs a better plan for grad ceremonies.

  4. Daniel says:

    I echo Laurie’s comments. Storms are not unusual occurrences and this one had been predicted by weather forecasts since last week. That McGill has failed to plan a more resilient convocation strategy is embarrassing and, as a student of 4 years I can say, unsurprising. The blame for this rests entirely on the university, not on the weather. Not that I would expect McGill to step up to the plate and accept responsibility. Absolutely shameful.

  5. Esther says:

    I flew in all the way from the UK to see my brother’s convocation. Sadly, I did not get to see him receive his degree.

    It’s a real shame that the convocation organizers did not have a Plan B for any disruptions to the ceremony. The blog entry also conveniently neglected to mention how dangerous it was for the guests and graduates inside the tent during the whole ordeal: there were serious structural failures – the side poles holding up the tent were collapsing around us and many guests had to hold them up to ensure the storm didn’t knock down the entire structure. Emergency evacuation of the tent was also poorly organized.

    Very disappointed in a school that claims itself to be the “Harvard of the North.”

  6. Debra says:

    Shame on you McGill. Third rate venue for a first rate university. Laurie above said it all. Driving home to Toronto now and so disappointed.

  7. Vera says:

    My husband and I missed our daughter’s convocation due to the lack of organization. Nobody knew where to go, as the intercom was not used and people were visibly confused. Knowing that this is not the first time this is happening, I am very surprised that McGill didn’t think of an alternative (renting out an indoor location near McGill, or having more days with smaller groups so that convocation can be held indoors, etc). I understand that this would inconvenience the personnel, but days like this also severely inconvenience us. This was a great milestone in our daughter’s life and we wish we could have celebrated it with her.

  8. Lisa NYC says:

    Shame on the McGill administration that not only had no back up plan, nocontingency plan of ANY kind but even worse created extremely unsafe conditions for students families and the few faculty members who managed to make it though torrential rain to the much too small halway we were sent to.
    No one was in charge. There was no leadership, no accountability and no one in Security had anything to do with the announcement to send thousands into a hall that hold 600.
    I am thoroughly disgusted by the ineptitude on display today.
    Not only was every fire and safety code broken by a careless administration but sickeningly the most base reactions were rewarded.
    Anyone selfish enough to push into the small hall and take the seats of graduates was able to get what they came for. Sort of.
    Students walked, their names were called and McGill can say they held a graduation.

    Those who made it first to room 132 were able to cross the stage many in view of thir arents.
    Yet mst students and nearly al families were deprived of that experience.
    There was not enough room for people and no one was in charge for an hour more.
    The rinciple, the head of Security and anyone else in charge of planning this event should be publicly reprimanded if not irked.
    The deepest shame is that so many of us trusted our children to this crew of buffoons.

    McGill University is a callous unfeeling joke that does not deserve the task of caring for and nurturing young minds.

  9. Veronica says:

    The tent poles did not “shift.” The straps snapped on three of the poles. The poles themselves were not in the ground, but were sitting on top of the ground and tied down. When the three straps broke, the poles lifted and the wind pushed the tent down into the seating area. The faculty response was too delayed, the security prevented people from using an open exit, and told those helping support the tent to stop doing so despite the fact that none of the students had been told to leave but were told to remain seated.

  10. Alejandro says:

    We are very disapointed; everybody know the weather in advance and McGill should organize much better this important event. Our daughter could not receive her diploma like the other ones. McGill must organize another venue for this group asap and do not wait for a semester or two to give them the opportunity for a proper Convocation ceremony. Our daugther’s dream for a graduation ceremony has broken.

  11. Jane Fletcher says:

    My graduating daughter’s father and grandfather flew in from California. My husband and I almost changed our plans to fly in from South Africa but decided (thankgoodness) to watch it on the live feed and communicate with my daughter via real time text. She changed her working and travel plans specifically to return to Montreal to attend graduation. We had no idea such an important ceremony would be held in a tent in a city whose weather is famously unreliable. With so many indoor venues in the city, McGill, as a ‘first class’ university, should be able to arrange a suitable place for students and their families to acknowledge their achievement. The university is fortunate no one was hurt.

  12. Caroline says:

    I’m still a student at McGill and haven’t graduated yet. What happened really worries me. I feel so bad for those who weren’t able to celebrate one of their most important days in life. At the same time it makes me doubt if I will be able to have a perfect convocation when I’m going to graduate. The fact that no changes have ever been made is disappointing. I thought McGill could be better than this. Don’t blame it on the weather. At some point, McGill should step up and take serious responsibility for what happened. Hopefully things will change by the time I graduate.

  13. Donald Abbott says:

    As someone who, with a group of others, was in the tent attempting to prevent one of the main posts (not one of the posts on the side-but a main post in the centre of the tent) from further shifting, I am surprised McGill is going ahead with another convocation in the tent. The tent should have been engineered to withstand the winds we experienced yesterday but was not. Pretty clear to me given the shifting of the main posts that this is not a sound design. Why risk the lives of others by holding more ceremonies in it?

  14. Nicolas Magnien says:

    I was fortunate to have my convocation in the morning, as I was expecting that horrible weather but it never came for us… I feel so sorry for all my friends and fellow graduates in the afternoon that this meant-to-be important day was not handled more properly. As a two-degree graduate student who was seated in the wrong section, I can say it does seem unfortunately like convocation services are struggling to get things to work smoothly at our university. Hopefully, in a couple of years, we all laugh about these memories…

  15. Joseph says:

    While we’re all disappointed about missing our children’s graduation I have to comment on how well parents reacted to ensure the tent did not collapse on people. Many of the support straps on the east side of the tent snapped when a violent burst of wind swept in and nearly lifted the tent. The side of the tent started to collapse and the internal support pillers wavered swaying the tent. Of concern was the large screens hanging from the ceiling which swayed back and forth. Parents rushed to the side of the tent and held up the side supports while others tried to retie the straps. As we held onto the support the torential rain drenched us all. Like my wife and myself I saw many parents dressed for the event completely soaked as we struggled to ensure the side did not collapse. I am sure if the gust of wind that hit the tent had been longer than 30 seconds or so the tent would have come down.
    Thank you Magill parents for pulling together as you did.

  16. George Sfeir says:

    Dear McGill President;

    I am one of the parents who were at the Tent Convocation ceremony for graduates of Bachelor of Arts. I was not impressed with the tent set-up from the moment I arrived. There was no way for parents to see their loved child sitting to get their diplomas. The stage was small and the tent was very long. It was hard to see and experience the celebration regardless where the parent sits.

    My suggestion is that McGill should move graduation ceremonies to a theatre/stadium where the stage is large enough and the graduates could be seen sitting waiting for their diplomas.

  17. Linda says:

    As a McGill employee, I’m embarassed and disappointed by how this all played out, too, and very sorry for those whose graduation was spoiled by poor planning on McGill’s part. This “lawn party” graduation event is a legacy of the previous Principal and I think it’s time to revert back to an indoor venue. Yes, some graduating students and parents get to enjoy a lovely event when it’s warm and sunny (but not humid), but everyone should have an equal and memorable occasion for graduation – not just those who are lucky enough to draw good weather. Besides which, I see that lawn torn up every year, then replanted again: really, is this a prudent use of diminishing university funds? Leave the lawn alone: let it revert to its old, dignified stature as a common green space for relaxing lunch breaks, football games, peaceful strolls, etc.

  18. LM Eddy says:

    I can’t believe that McGill would not have a plan B for inclement weather. How disrespectful to students who worked so hard and their families. I can totally understand the disappointment for those who were part of this event. Congrats to the graduates, but really McGill….this is terrible!

  19. Camila Muriel says:

    I was graduating yesterday at this convocation, and I am shocked by the media’s coverage of events.

    ”The tent was not broken and did not collapse”

    My family were unfortunate to be under the section of the tent that fell on them.
    My grandma, 85, was injured to her shoulder,
    while my dad hurt his arm when holding the post so it wouldn’t collapse.

    I think people’s safety was under serious threat yesterday – there were a lot of elderly people, even people walking with canes.

    The tent was not safe, nor were the conditions outside when moving from the tent to Leacock.
    The uphill path was very slippery as currents formed from pourring rain.

    If other people were injured, please post your experience.

    Of course, extreme weather events do happen, but with such a wheather forecast, I think the ceremony should have been either post-poned or re-located.

    ****2 years ago, downtown ceremonies were re-located to an indoor setting due to the fear that striking students would interupt the ceremony***

    where are McGill’s priorities????

  20. JLN says:

    As parents of a first time graduate, we were exremely upset by yesterday’s disaster. I was in the tent and cannot believe the fear and panic that came about. Although there may be many more ceremonies for our child in the future, this was to be the first and very special event for us, having waiting all his life for that moment when he crosses the stage to received his honours achievement, only to be shoved out in the pouring rain and then herded to an over-crowded building where in the end we were told we could not even see our son receive his diploma! I can only imagine what the parents, who came in from outside the province to witness their special event, are feeling over this disaster. McGill…. do you even care about the tears we shed knowing that we missed, through no fault of ours, a special and significant day in our children’s lives!!!!!!!

  21. Adrienne says:

    As a McGill grad, a McGill employee, and a member of the McGill community for most of my life, I was so sad that my niece did not get to enjoy what should have been one of the most important days of her young life. I was already watching from Leacock 132 (because I do not like that tent at all) when the chaos began. As I watched people rushing around in a panic, I remembered my mother’s McGill convocation so many years ago, held in Place des Arts. That was a much more appropriate venue for the event. I have NEVER attended a convocation in the tent (including my own) because it just doesn’t seem like a pleasant space to me (too hot or too cold depending on the day, poor visibility, etc.).

    I understand that a decision was made to hold convocation on campus to allow for pictures in front of the iconic Arts building. However, Place des Arts is a few minutes away, and people can easily return to campus for pictures after the ceremony is done.

    It is ridiculous that we don’t have a backup plan in case of bad weather. It’s not as though bad weather is uncommon in Montreal.

    I vote for a return to Place des Arts, where we can clearly see the stage, there’s plenty of room, and the weather is unlikely to ruin the event.

  22. Steve Shi says:

    We have the right to go across the stage to get our diploma. We strongly suggest the university to redo the convocation!!!

  23. Steve Shi says:

    All arts graduates, let us suggest the university to redo our ceremony!!!

  24. Tom says:

    If only we had a way to find out how the weather is going to be in the future. If only there were structures made of stone in downtown Montreal that would be strong enough to withhold a thunderstorm and big enough to accommodate hard working students together with their proud parents…………….wait, those things exists. They are called weather forecast and buildings!!!!! I don’t have a child graduating from McGill and I am still mad that this accumulation of (allegedly) smart people did not think of a plan B.

    It is very embarrassing how this was handled by McGill and as usual, the university is not too blame. Whenever things go wrong in this (formerly) great institution, McGiill starts padding itself on the shoulders how well it has dealt with the situation that shouldn’t even have happened in the first place. Then McGill goes on to immediately point fingers. This time it was the weather’s fault. If it’s not the weather, it’s the Quebec government, if it’s not the Quebec government, it’s the economy, if it’s not the economy, it’s the student groups, etc. etc……Remember McGill, if you point a finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you!

  25. Ben says:

    This is really poor planning from McGill. The weather is not too blame because such storm happens during the summer months and putting everyone safety at risk under a tent, is not a compromise an institution of good reputation should take.

    Very disappointed by McGill poor organization for this important day for all students, families and friends.

  26. Maureen says:

    After reading everyone’s comments it is obvious that a plan B should be in place because this is not the first time weather has been an issue. We traveled 3000 km to see our son graduate, very disappointed. There absolutely was a structural problem as my husband was one of the parents holding the pole on the side in place so we could get out. Although disappointed it is one we will never forget.

  27. Roland Uphoff says:

    I am one of the parents who’s convocation experience was completely ruined by the events on June 3.
    My wife and I flew from Vancouver Island to attend our daughters graduation. After five tough years at McGill she had now earned her degree, and McGill University was going to make it special.

    Well things didn’t work out that way In fact – it didn’t go well at all. So here’s a few suggestions; First of all – maybe the administration should use a purpose built building – like an arena perhaps – with things like air conditioning and walls that don’t break when a gust of wind comes up. (by the way -KUDOS to the guests who held up the steel pipes on the left side of the tent so the whole roof didn’t collapse on us.)
    Also – try having an emergency plan ahead of time. The plan you came up with (put 2,000 students and parents in a room meant for 600 people and don’t bother giving clear instructions) sounds like something someone shouted out from the audience…..

    When the hall empties out and there is room to let people in safely – DON’T tell your over zealous security to shut out the parents trying to salvage something out of this to be told that they could not enter a nearly empty building because of “fire regulations” and therefore would miss seeing her graduate with dignity.

    The weather was responsible for the damage to the tent: but the McGill administration was responsible for the utter shambles of a convocation that resulted from poor planning and a complete lack of proper leadership during an emergency. Now they are telling us that we can spend thousands of dollars more to watch our children graduate in someone else’s class. Wow – How generous!

    I can still recall hearing one of the esteemed Doctors proudly telling the audience how McGill was a “World Class University”. In the audience I felt proud when he said those words – my daughter had achieved the goal of getting a degree from a “World Class University”. As I was flying back home today, I remember the tears in my daughters eyes as security finally let me in the almost empty hall to see her there – forlorn….not proud.
    The words “World Class University” turned to ashes in my mouth and I wonder if anyone in the McGill University administration really understands what the result of their reckless lack of preparation has done.

    I can only hope that the administration has learned something from this event, so that no other family has to go through what we just went through.

  28. Maher Ghadanfar says:

    I was not able to attend my daughter’s convocation, so I was looking forward to watching it via livestream. The beginning of the convocation was beautiful (albeit a bit long), and I was proud that my daughter had attended such a fine institution that attracted such world-class staff and speakers. My pride turned to shock and then pure contempt. You cannot blame this on the weather, but a plain and simple lack of preparedness by McGill. I was not able to watch my daughter on what should have been one of the most joyous days of her young life, and it’s safe to say that it definitely was appalling. Simply: McGill failed, McGill failed.

  29. Cam says:

    I was very disappointed to hear that my little sister was unable to graduate. After studying hard for three years, it seems crazy that McGill had no back up plan in mind to ensure that every student could experience their rightly earned graduation! My graduation was a great day, and I am sorry that they couldn’t experience it completely.

  30. Abeer hanano says:

    Simply put, you’ve disrespected your students and their parents. You’ve robbed me, a mother, of my right to watch my daughter walk across the stage to receive her diploma, something I’ve been waiting for for four years.

  31. Maher Ghadanfar says:

    I was not able to attend my daughter’s convocation, so I was looking forward to watching it via livestream. The beginning of the convocation was beautiful “albeit a bit long”, and I was proud that my daughter had attended such a fine institution that attracted such world-class staff and speakers. My pride turned to shock and then pure contempt. You cannot blame this on the weather, but a plain and simple lack of preparedness by McGill.
    I was not able to watch my daughter on what should have been one of the most joyous days of her young life, and it’s safe to say that it definitely was appalling. Simply: McGill failed, McGill failed.

  32. CVironda says:

    Just landed back in Paris after the fiasco of a graduation event we have attended at McGill. We are gutted however it doesn’t seem to bother McGill if you read this newsletter! The students deserved better and I can’t believe you posted a photo of a handful of happy graduates who managed to get into the hall with their families leaving everyone else standing dripping in the hallways. An official apology would be more appropriate.

  33. aj aj says:

    Big Ups to the clerical staff who stayed at work late to hand out the diplomas and bear the brunt of the – very valid! – frustrations from parents and students regarding the situation. They didn’t get to wear robes or enjoy ceremony after ceremony of pomp and circumstance, but they would sooner give up their own time and try their best to make the day as enjoyable as possible for the students.

  34. Brayden Abraham says:

    Weather aside, this was a TERRIBLE convocation experience. The ceremony began with 800 graduating McGill students being herded into Redpath Hall like cattle. We were packed extremely close together in 30 degree heat wearing cap and gown for over an hour. It was so bad that two graduating students at the very back of the hallway fainted due to heat stroke. We were then marched out of the sweatshop… I mean Redpath Hall, and led into a tent containing roughly 4000 people (students, faculty, and families/friends of the graduates).

    Upon entering the tent I was even more disgusted. I don’t know if it was the heat, or the thought of my parents, who donated well over $100,000 to McGill, only to watch me cross the stage (which I didn’t even get to do) from row 350, on a 40 inch LSD TV hanging from the rafters of the tent. Maybe next year they should put a bike at the back of the tent so parents can drive it up to the front to get a picture of their son or daughter crossing the stage. Knowing McGill there would be a $10 fee (each way).

    Finally, I reached my seat. I sat in exhaustion. Soaked in sweat. At this point the experience had already been ruined. I could barely see the stage. Another student fainted from heat stroke. At this point I would have traded my BA degree for a bottle of water. Then the storm hit (the comments above do a pretty accurate job describing that part of the experience).

    Rain or shine this was or would have been a terrible experience. It was low class and embarrassing. Any highschool convocation would put this ceremony to shame.

    As I am writing this, the article has been removed from the McGill website, and replaced with photos of happy graduates from other ceremonies.

    Sincerely,
    #623

  35. Connie says:

    Im one of graduated arts students in that convacation. My parents fly over 20 hours across the world for me. This would be my first and last official convocation. However, my parents as non English speaker had no idea we moved to Leacock. They were the last couple left the tent because they were looking for me and worried about me in the chaos. all I did after cross the stage was looking for my parents. My feet were hurt with high heel for climbing the uphill path, and disappointed students and parents sitting everywhere, so I left without taking any pics. McGill sent an email says impossible to redo it because over capacity in the tent the second day, seriously McGill? You really need to think about how you should treat your students. You failed.

  36. Bianca Lallitto says:

    On June 3rd, McGill University showed just how little it respects its students by refusing to be held accountable for the disruption of the Faculty of Arts’ afternoon convocation ceremony. An apology e-mail which can only be described as politically correct was sent to the McGill community by its principal, Professor Suzanne Fortier, in which the blame was shifted to everything but McGill’s poor planning and lack of concern for the safety of students and guests. I’d like to comment on some quotes from the e-mail:

    “We would like to offer our heartfelt apologies for the disruption of today’s convocation ceremony due to the extreme weather that swept across Montreal.” Professor Fortier is conveniently attributing the disruption of the ceremony to the weather, but it was not the weather that forced students and guests to evacuate the convocation tent. Rather, it was McGill’s refusal to exercise any foresight which put students and guests in a precarious position. The thunderstorm was not an unexpected event, as Professor Fortier would have us believe. It had been forecasted for a week, with severe storm warnings in place days in advance of the ceremony. McGill is reacting as if it is allergic to accepting responsibility for an event which could have been prevented if its administrators had bothered to rethink their original plans.

    “The evacuation proceeded smoothly, and we are very glad that all our students, guests and staff are safe.” The evacuation went anything but smoothly. McGill administrators stood silent as students and guests panicked inside of a collapsing tent. None of them were interested in taking charge of the situation. Parents were forced to hold the tent together as others were shoved out into the torrential downpour, under trees and in the way of incoming fire trucks. There was no direction; students and guests were left to fend for themselves, most not told where to go or what the plan was going forward.

    “I would also like to thank all the members of the McGill community who worked to get the convocation moved so quickly to a “Plan B” location.” That Professor Fortier put Plan B in quotations is appropriate. There was never a Plan B in place, for that would require planning.

    “Although the experience was not ideal, we are happy that we did not have to cancel completely.” Professor Fortier has inadvertently revealed McGill’s priorities here. What matters is being able to say a convocation ceremony took place. Showing respect for its students by ensuring they have the convocation ceremony they deserve certainly doesn’t.

    Here is a quote from the McGill Reporter:

    “The University would like to thank all those who worked hard to salvage Tuesday afternoon’s event, under trying circumstances. These were exceptional circumstances and exceptional people responded accordingly. Our priority will continue to be everyone’s safety.” Clearly, the decision to hold a convocation ceremony under a poorly engineered tent during a thunderstorm didn’t take everyone’s safety into account. McGill is trying to imply that the storm was a freak natural disaster that couldn’t have been accounted for. Not only does this make light of actual natural disasters, but it is disrespectful to students to blame the disruption of their convocation ceremony on an unexceptional circumstance that had long been forecasted. The real exceptional circumstance in this case was McGill’s blatant disregard for its students, coupled with its administrators’ inability to react responsibly during a crisis.

    McGill has robbed its students of an important moment in their lives. Rather than making amends by redoing the convocation ceremony the right way, it has generously cast students the opportunity to relive their experience at a ceremony of a future graduating class. Offering students the chance to “re-convocate” with a class that isn’t theirs is like tossing the crumbs of a stolen loaf of bread to a starving child who was entitled to the entire loaf. McGill has made it clear that it is uninterested in doing right by its students. I would caution any future McGill applicants to think twice about attending this so-called “world class” university.

    #722

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