Convocation 2009 – Part I

This is the first of a special three-part Voice report on Athabasca University’s 2009 Convocation, which took place June 11, 12, and 13. The Voice offers its warmest congratulations to all this year’s graduates!

If there’s one word that represents Convocation 2009, It’s ?change.? One of the most visible changes this year was the absence of the large, red-and-white striped tent where the ceremony has traditionally been held. Instead, guests and graduands enjoyed all the comforts of the Athabasca Regional Multiplex?complete with large screens that afforded everyone a great view.

More changes could be seen at the site of AU’s future Academic and Research Centre (ARC). The centre will increase campus space by 50 per cent, and work was progressing even as convocation guests arrived.

But perhaps the most important change is the one that could be seen in the faces of AU’s graduands: the sense of accomplishment in completing their degrees, and the new paths their education will help carry them along.

It could be heard in the many conversations that floated through the multiplex as graduands and their families enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast and explored the building: new careers, more studies, or the pride of being the first in their family to earn a university degree (an accomplishment that belongs to a remarkable 74 per cent of AU grads).

From Port St. Lucie, Florida, to Quesnel, BC, AU grads came together to celebrate the changes they’ve accomplished so far and the many that are still to come.

The skies were clear and sunny as graduands made their way to the large robing area, greeting old friends and making new ones. The sense of expectation grew as family members found their seats, and then it was time for Convocation 2009 to officially begin.

The first sight to greet everyone was the richly coloured costumes of the Kokopelli Choir, their incredible voices leading the procession of academics and graduands.

Their performance led into a singing of O, Canada, and then a warm welcome was extended to everyone by Joy Romero, Chair of the Athabasca University Governing Council.

Noting that distance education allows students a unique opportunity to form bonds based on character, she also recalled the first AU convocation in 1997?an event with just two grads, compared to the 4,191 in the class of 2009!

Her remarks also touched on the new academic centre under construction, a building that will embody AU’s principles by incorporating wide-open work spaces, a symbol of the university’s philosophy of removing barriers.

Official greetings were offered by Paula Evans, councillor for the town of Athabasca, and Brian Bahry, deputy reeve for the county of Athabasca. As Dr. Frits Pannekoek delivered the president’s remarks, he noted that AU is celebrating several new chairs, including one in Indigenous Studies. He also shared the fact that AU has the highest student satisfaction rate of all Alberta’s universities, and affirmed the belief that, without the skills and achievements of AU grads, Canada would not be the envy of the world.

Before the degrees were conferred, there was a very special presentation to be made: the induction of Bernard Wiese to the Order of Athabasca University.
For many years, Mr. Wiese has collected antique instruments, photos, and other artefacts from northern Alberta, especially from the Fort Chipewayan and Athabasca areas. In 2007, he made a gift of two major collections to the university, and the Order of Athabasca recognizes his valuable contribution.

Then came the moment that the graduands and their families had been working toward and anticipating for so long?the conferring of degrees. The candidates rose and the petition was read by Dr. Dietmar Kennepohl, Associate Vice-president (Academic): ?Madam Chair, Mr. President and ladies and gentlemen of the Governing Council, I present to you the petition that these graduands, having fulfilled all of the requirements of the statutes of Athabasca University, may, with your permission, be admitted to the degrees to which they are entitled.?

The Chair replied, the pledge was addressed to the graduands, and the presentation of degrees began. The first day of convocation saw the Master of Distance Education, Master of Arts ? Integrated Studies, and Master of Counselling degrees awarded. The brief bios read during the ceremony offered a glimpse of each graduates? individual journey.

Some are members of the Canadian Forces; another ran her twenty-fifth marathon to celebrate the completion of her degree. One grad was wearing the same watch her grandmother wore at her graduation?in 1898. Some plan to begin more studies right away, while at least one can’t wait to ?rest her brains for a few months with reality TV.?

On the career front, their plans include becoming an online instructor, a registered psychologist, and the continuation of a 32-year career with the RCMP.

Another special presentation was made, this time the conferring of an honorary Doctor of Laws upon Dr. Jean Linse Pettifor. Dr. Pettifor was recognized for her ?lifelong commitment to education and her mentoring, scholarship and leadership,? and in her lively speech she celebrated the grads? combination of idealism and realism, and noted that by reaching for the stars, they’ll make life better on earth.

The conferring of undergraduate degrees followed, and cameras flashed as grads in the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of General Studies (Applied Studies), Bachelor of General Studies (Arts and Science), and Bachelor of Professional Arts programs crossed the stage.

Along with their fellow grads in the master’s programs, the diversity of their goals and accomplishments was inspiring. Their plans include working for CSIS, becoming a student advisor, and pursuing a 5th-degree black belt in tae kwon do. Some studied from exotic locations, while others were able to walk the trails at AU and visit the library while completing their degrees.

The final presentation of the day was the Governor General’s Gold Medal to Marcel T. Ducharme, a graduate of the Master of Distance Education program. The Academic Medals were created in 1873 ?to encourage academic excellence across the nation,? and the gold medal is presented to students at the graduate level. Marcel also delivered the graduate’s address, and you can read the text of his speech in this issue of The Voice.

The Voice offers its warmest congratulations to the graduates of 2009!

Watch for more convocation coverage next week!

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