The Convocation Experience

Hitting the High Notes at #AthaU18

Attending AU’s Convocation was, for me, a much-anticipated experience.  As I worked my way through my AU degree program, the thought of attending convocation was on my mind.  Although Athabasca is almost 4000 km away from home, I viewed it as a important destination for my AU journey.

On June 8, my husband and I took a flight from Ottawa to Edmonton, then rented a car for the drive north to Athabasca.  We didn’t have much chance to rest, because the following day was convocation!

Some of the high notes from my convocation experience:

Organization.  Convocation purred along like a well-oiled machine.  Staff and volunteers were in abundance to help graduands and their guests navigate the site and the ceremony.  Everyone associated with AU was unfailingly cheerful and patient and every guest felt like a guest of honour.  I knew where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing at all times, which kept convocation-day jitters at bay.

AU books and gear.  Before the ceremony there was ample opportunity to browse through and purchase books from AU Press and AU-themed clothing and swag.  Online shopping is convenient, but nothing beats buying something you can see and touch.

Meet and greet.  Name tags helped put faces to the names of AU staff, tutors, and fellow students.  After communicating by phone and e-mail, it was great to finally meet AUSU executive director Jodi Campbell and AU Library director Elaine Fabbro, as well as many “real, live” students and faculty members.  The only downside with the name tags is that, once students donned their gowns, those tags were hidden and we resumed our anonymity.

Attention to detail.  I had wondered how my last name, challenging to the uninitiated, would be handled.  Not to worry.  Before the ceremony got underway, the deans of each faculty sought out each grad whose name they felt the least bit uncertain about to learn precise pronunciation.  When the deans introduced each grad by name during the ceremony, it was with confidence and near-flawless pronunciation.

Free photos.  AU arranged photos of each group of grads.  I was meeting some of my fellow Bachelor of General Studies grads for the first time, and I loved that I would be able to download free group photos of the BGS grads in attendance.

Focus on grads.  I was impressed that graduands were seated on the stage throughout the ceremony.  This really emphasized who the ceremony was for.  Although we were seated behind the speakers, a large screen broadcast the ceremony from the audience’s view so that we didn’t miss a thing.

Honouring the grads.  At the end of the ceremony, AU executive, academics, and staff filed to the back of the hall where they formed an honour guard, cheering and clapping while the graduates walked through on their way out the hall.  Being honoured in this way made a special day even more special—and worth the journey to Athabasca.

While most of my convocation experience was a dizzying high, there were a few off-key notes:

Starving students.  The convocation schedule indicated that food and beverages would be available for purchase.  That was true but the food, supplied by a local grocery store, was mainly tiny snacks with large prices.  With no other opportunity to get lunch (the ceremony ran from noon to 3pm) I spent $4 on an oreo-sized cheese scone and a bottle of water.  At those prices, I’d have been far better served at the Tim Horton’s across town with a stomach-filling breakfast sandwich and coffee for $5.

Campus closed.  When my husband and I attempted to tour the campus buildings after the ceremony, we found them locked up tight. (It was Saturday.)  Since this was my only opportunity to be in Athabasca, I’d hoped to tour the buildings to see where all the action is.  We had to settle for a tour of the grounds and the building exteriors.

Stampede for the exit.  After the ceremony, the building emptied out surprisingly quickly.  I’d hoped to continue to meet and mingle but it seems that many people were rushing back to Edmonton or beyond and wanted to get on the road.  My husband and I spent more time in Athabasca and we’re glad we took the time to explore the area before continuing on our way.

Overall, AU’s convocation was an incredibly positive experience.  It was a well-organized, student-focused event that I’ll remember forever.  The videos don’t really do it justice—the magic is in being there.

If you’re graduating in the coming year(s), I encourage you to try to attend convocation in person.  AU’s convocation is an experience never to be forgotten.