A Re-imagined Convocation

Making History and Changing Traditions in 2020

Graduation as a Time-honored Tradition

As AU students and staff prepare for a modified “Reimagined Convocation” on October 2, 2020, we have time to consider what impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on recent graduates.  As a time-honored tradition dating back to the 1800s, university convocation represents a university’s history and successes.  Gowns and caps vary from one university to the next in color or style, but they are symbolic of a momentous occasion, often a turning point in one’s life.  Graduation is the culmination of years of hard work as well as a passing of the baton from university faculty to students.

Convocation is Not Just for the Students

I believe university convocation is not only about the success of the students but also about the faculty and staff who supported those students.  During convocation, university staff and professors are recognized for advising, teaching, and mentoring students throughout their studies.  It is a traditional experience where elders are dressed in honorary gowns displaying master’s and PhD degree achievements.  Professors shake hands with their understudies who embody the next generation of academic thought and progress.  Honorary degrees and awards are given to those who excel in their field of study and students participate with lectures which will encouragingly thrust them into their next stage of life.  Convocation is also a time to celebrate the history of an institution.  This year, AU is celebrating 50 years as a university; the 2020 convocation is a reflection on its history as well as an opportunity to envision the future of online learning.

A Virtual Convocation is Unique

How can a virtual convocation fill the void of a public physical display of achievement?  As a professor of English, Jim Corder says “[u]niversities keep history, but they have to be in the present” (1993).  What if this year marks a major turning point in the way convocation is held in subsequent years?  Will history remember the 2020 convocation class as the first to encounter a new kind of convocation, one where family, faculty, and students can all participate virtually from anywhere in the world?  AU already provides a unique and essential form of higher education, a flexible online learning environment where experienced professors and tutors are matched with students from a variety of backgrounds and socio-economic situations.

A virtual convocation can complement the flexible education AU is striving for.  The 2020 AU Reimagined Convocation plans to provide interactive and networking opportunities for students and prospective employers.  This opportunity allows AU students to demonstrate their familiarity with modern technology and online platforms.  What better of a way to showcase your talents and skills in this digital age than to participate in an online convocation? As a student doing an after-degree in Education, my in-person job fair for new teachers was cancelled due to COVID-19.  I see huge benefit for universities to facilitate networking opportunities between students and future employers; virtual meetings give students the chance to explore their career options and make the transition from university to the workforce.  It also reflects positively on universities and encourages new admissions when a university’s graduates are able to find meaningful employment after completing their programs.

Preparing for the future

Corder (1993) says historically convocation has been a “joint endeavour” (p.  595); no matter how alone you might feel in a virtual convocation, you are still part of a larger group of students and educators who are first to have this unique form of graduation.  I would encourage you to try to look beyond what you might be missing from an in-person convocation and instead envision the opportunities a virtual ceremony presents.  The graduates of 2020 will be the first to face the challenges of graduating during a pandemic, one which has halted our economy and forced our society to rely on virtual gatherings.  As a result, graduates will come out stronger and more prepared for a future including increased online learning and an economy evermore reliant upon technology.

For more information about AU’s Reimagined Convocation October 2, 2020


Jim W.  Corder.  (1993).  “The Tyranny of Inattention.”  The Journal of Higher Education, 64(5), 594.  https://0-doi-org.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/10.2307/2959995
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