Fly on the Wall—Virtual Convocation 2020

To all the 2020 graduands, congrats!  And for the rest of us grads, future and past, let’s rest on our virtual laurels for a moment and consider the conquest that’s been.  Many of our peers would shudder to attempt distance education.  AU is not for the faint of heart or slack of skill.  We learn how to learn by evolving our scholarly selves amidst our normal lives.  And, unlike a new hobby, it’s not always fun and games.  When the going gets rough we find out the key truth of learning online: it’s all in our head!  A degree from AU isn’t just something given to you, it is you.  And only the brightest and most outstanding possess the intangible temerity to succeed at distance education.

This year’s virtual convocation provides a shot at delving deeper into the virtual nature of life itself at the outset of the ’20s.  Merriam Webster defines virtual as that which is “being such in essence or effect though not formally recognized or admitted”; the word carries an almost, but not quite, sort of sensibility.  Crucially, the dictionary only invokes computers in the secondary definition of the word.  A hollow thud of disappointment can easily resound through our being when we realize that, just as some ignorant folks might discount our AU degree as somehow not from a real university, we now have to contend with how we don’t get a real graduation.  Aww.  Yet, recall the frog marches of high school graduations.  On these occasions, it seems homogeneity supersedes individuality and excellence.  Perhaps, then, a virtual convocation is more real than a real one, if only because we each get to attend it from our own home soil and study shed (proverbial or literal).  Grad marches have a certain shepherd-like quality to them anyway, right.  And AU, being above all about our individual abilities, we might as well finish off with a virtual convocation.  Not because we aren’t equal or superior to brick and mortar grads but because the virtual essence of learning becomes us as we ascend to academic glory.

Academic Nobility: How Excellent We Are

AU effectively deploys noble language in an attempt to evaluate virtual convocation: “AU’s virtual convocation will include the historic and traditional elements of our in-person convocation with the updated and modern twist of being delivered virtually and simultaneously to this year’s graduands across the globe.”  We’ve been treated like real human beings throughout our journey, more than can be said for many at the largest university here in BC that I shall leave unnamed, so why not have a graduation that combines past pomp and circumstance with the glitz of techno-mysteries from the future?

Plus, who knows, if the earth’s polarity shifts we might all be back to typewriters in a jiffy!  A nod to tradition is all we can expect from our current culture anyway; something borrowed and something blue only means so much in a hall stuffed with folks furtively checking their blue screens under disheveled caps and gowns.  So, let’s enjoy what we have at AU, even if we can’t attend a traditional convocation.

Critical Thinking: The Substrate of Scholarly Success

The rubber meets the road at this year’s convocation because we get to see our culture in a moment of flux.  Yet the more things change, the more life remains poetic and unmappable.  Surely there’s more to us at a virtual level than digital mimicry of an imagined authentic experience.  What about that unplaceable whimsy that triggers shivers down our spines and along our thighs such that our whole world quakes along hitherto-uncharted metaphysical fault lines.  If convocation is really an event that frames a triumphant life moment, it’s the ephemeral details, those uncounted internal gasps of awe at what we’ve done, that matter most.  Those priceless mental moments, even given a virtual and temporal abstraction filtered through the techno-sphere, transcend their mode of conduction.  At such junctures, with apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is not the message.

So, whatever the future holds for graduands and the rest of us at AU, let’s recall that, when we attend virtual convocation, we are participating in the times even as our tiny minds transcend the hegemonic realities of our epoch.  Education provides a window into other worlds and, above all, a new view down the rabbit hole of our own humble existence.  What can be more edifying than learning how to see ourselves and our lives in new and more thoughtful ways?  To this end, virtual convocation ought to succeed valiantly because it allows us to see the world of 2020 not only as it is but also as we may imagine it best can be improved for the future.

[While Natalia may have written the longest single article in 2020, this was one of the shortest written by our own Fly on the Wall, Jason Sullivan.  Jason’s articles are a mainstay of the Voice, often focusing on issues of identity, academia, and language, yet he still manages to connect them to the issues that are happening at the time.  Such as in this nominated article from our October 2 issue, shortly after AU’s first virtual convocation.]