Convocation 2003 – Photo Special – part 2

Text and Photos by Sandra Moore

For full convocation coverage, see last week’s Voice issue for part one of this picture special, and for Debbie Jabbour’s personal convocation experience. This week look for AU’s own convocation report from The Insider and another graduate profile [more to follow in the coming weeks]

Once outside of the doors they followed a Scottish piper and AU registrar Gilbert Perras carrying AU’s ceremonial mace – which is symbolic of the traditional “talking stick” commonly used by many indigenous people to express the authority and power of the group.

The procession moved down a long red carpet covered by white canopies from which enormous baskets of flowers are hung into the large red and white striped convocation tent.

Filing down the long walkway into the tent, graduates searched for family members along the rows of chairs as proud moms, dads husbands, wives, daughters and sons rapidly snapped off photos of their loved ones as they proceeded past.

Following the graduands were Governing Council members, academics, professional staff, tutors and guests, and finally the platform party, which consists of the “brass” at AU, the honorary doctorate recipient and the Chairman.

After everyone was on stage, soloist Ida Edwards flawlessly performed the national anthem and the ceremonial mace was placed in its cradle of honor at center stage. The Chairman (of Governing Council), Robert Fulton welcomed everyone to convocation and gave a short speech on the accomplishments of AU.

Next, he introduced special guest Al Wurfel, Mayor of the Town of Athabasca, who gave an impassionate, monotone speech welcoming the graduates and their families and encouraging them to come back for leisure some time. After the mayor, AU’s President, Dominique Abrioux, raved about the reputation of AU and the work of its exceptional staff.

Once the speeches and formalities ended, the Bachelor of Arts graduates were called first to kneel down and have their hood placed upon their shoulders by the Registrar and then they proceeded to receive their degree from Dr. Abrioux. Next they were congratulated by the AU Governing Council Chair, as well as the BA Program Director.

As each student was called a short biography of the student was read aloud by VP-Alan Davis.

As I stated before, Alan takes the time to go over the pronunciation of each person’s name before the ceremonies, and he sounded flawless even as he pronounced some 5 or 6 syllable names.

Some of the bios included heartfelt thanks to understanding family members and friends, while others described obstacles students overcame such as studying while fighting cancer.

Some gave the audience an insight into the student’s future goals.

The bios also gave the audience an insight to the current careers these individuals were in – some were CEO’s of internet companies, some, to the groans of the audience, were Revenue Canada employees, one women described herself as a “domesticate technician” and I had to laugh to myself when I heard some male voice in my area state that that job sounded quite important.

Two students even attempted to “suck-up” to honorary degree recipient Vicki Gabereau by saying that now that they had free time they would be spending more time watching her show on television.

As the students finished their procession and headed back to their seats on stage they were presented with a gift from AUSU – a koskin, faux leather portfolio emblazoned with the words “Athabasca University Graduate 2003” and the AUSU logo.

After the final set of graduates from the Bachelor of Professional Arts left the stage, the Governor General’s Gold Medal was awarded to Christina Marie Patrick, who unfortunately could not attend convocation.

Next up was a passionate, comedic, heart-felt graduate address by Calgary native Ramona DeRose, a Bachelor of Administration Graduate. Holding back tears and clearing her throat at times Ramona spoke of admiration for the AU staff and jokingly stated that she came to Athabasca to yes graduate but also to confirm that Athabasca University really did exist.

[see last week’s issue of The Voice for a transcript of Ramona’s speech]

Finally, the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters was presented to Vicki Frances Gabereau by Dr. Jonathan Baggaley, Professor of Educational Technology in recognition of her outstanding contributions as a Canadian broadcaster and her ongoing dedication to promotion of the arts. For those of you who don’t know of Vicki Gabereau, she is an incredible high-school dropout success-story.

Her career began in 1974 when she ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Toronto; from there she moved into radio and became a well known personality ending up with a 2 hour CBC radio program in 1986.

In the early 1990’s she made the leap from radio to television with her straight forward, enlightening daily CTV talk show that bears her name.

As Dr. Baggaley introduced her to the stage he commented that she now joins the ranks of Dr. Ruth, Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil as Dr. Vicki.

Vicki was very humble in accepting her award as her son Morgan beamed at her from his front row seat, yet it was evident to see how very proud she was. Her biggest regret, as listed on her website, was not attending university or college.

She began her speech by saying that as Dr. Baggaley described her it sounded so much better than she imagined. Dr. Gabereau continued on to say that 2 weeks before this event she had woken up on her 57th birthday and had still not graduated from high school.

She comically went on to explain that she probably never would as she was the worst student in the world, confirming that to the audience by stating that she once received a mark of 2% in math. She said that her parents were in utter despair as to what to do with her academically, and if they could see her today up on this stage they would be extremely shocked.

She exclaimed that she was very proud to be receiving a doctorate from AU for 30 years of service in a career that was her education.

When she started in broadcasting it was but a fluke.

After trying just about every job known to man from scrubbing floors to driving a cab, to a stint in theatre school only to find out she was a failure as an actress, the only thing left to try was journalism. She claims that CBC let down their guard and she snuck in and was on the air before they had a chance to know what was happening.

Her “education” in the broadcasting field brought some character shaping moments, such as the interview she did with Gordon Litty, a man involved in the US Watergate scandal with a not-so-nice reputation.

Vicki remembers jokingly asking this man “Are you armed, sir?” to which he replied “I only have a pencil in my hand which I could put through your brain.” Vicki cattily replied back “Well, you wouldn’t do that.” To which Mr. Litty replied, “Only if you ask me a question I don’t like.”

Dr. Gabereau learned quickly that it was the questions people did not want to be asked that needed to be asked. She claims that the variety of jobs she worked in and her grammatically sensitive grandmother taught her to understand the power of language, which led to her success as someone who uses language to coerce others to tell their stories.

Dr. Gabereau urged students to take chances and do things they loved to do. “Don’t postpone your life, live it.”

She commented that the graduating class of AU 2003 was not the 18-22 year old U of A graduates with ma’s and pa’s looking after them, AU grads were the ma’s and pa’s. She complimented the graduates by saying it was very emotional to listen to the hardships and obstacles they have overcome to graduate and she also complimented AU on the graduation experience.

Dr. Gabereau said she was very impressed with how personal convocation at AU seemed, whereas at most universities graduation is like a factory – you get your degree handed to you and you are shuffled out the back door.

She continued on to state that she is grateful and lucky to have taken a “stupid, bold” chance to get ahead when she decided to get into broadcasting. She comfortingly said, “If you want to do something, you can do it.” After her speech Debbie Jabbour AUSU President, presented Dr. Gabereau with an engraved wooden photo album on behalf of the Students’ Union.

And that’s that, nearly 4 hours later, Chairman Robert Fulton thanked everyone for coming and said: “Members of the audience are requested to rise and remain at their seats until the platform party and the graduates have departed.”

The ceremonial mace was lifted from its stand by the Registrar; the piper began to play as he strode down the red carpet followed by the Registrar, AU President, and the other AU big shots on stage, Vicki Gabereau, Governing Council members, the Academics and finally the graduates. My favourite part of convocation was the “Honour Guard.” Everyone from the stage (minus the graduates), and all the tutors lined up on either side of the red carpet outside the tent and clapped as the graduates passed through. It must be such a defining moment as these students are honoured by their teachers in this way.

As the procession left the tent, graduates bobbed their heads up and down through the crowd looking for their family members. Families rushed through the crowds to embrace the graduates and shared tears and laughter. Graduates posed with family members for photos, proudly displaying the parchment that officially adds some new initials after their names. And with that the rains came, heavy rains. People ran to their vehicles and off to celebrate at local restaurants, and convocation was over.

What do the former students do with their time now? Read books, watch movies, take a walk, or just veg out on the couch. They can now do all these things without guilt. No more books to lug around, no more late nights typing essays, UNLESS, of course they continue on to Master’s programs, which seems to be what a lot of grads had in mind. Congratulations Grads!