Queen’s student concerned about virtual convocation, graduating alongside classmates

Student worried virtual ceremony would undermine “the sense of community that is so integral to Queen’s”

Principal Deane clarified that the virtual ceremony is not intended to replace a future in-person and traditional ceremony when the pandemic is over.
Journal File Photo

After COVID-19 brought public gatherings to a halt, the University is offering the class of 2020 the opportunity to celebrate their graduation virtually at online spring convocation ceremonies.

In an April 6 email to students who had applied to graduate in June, Queen’s announced it was offering a virtual ceremony to commemorate their achievements during the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. The University postponed spring convocation on March 16 due to the preventative measures being undertaken to reduce the spread of the virus.

The virtual convocation isn’t intended to replace the option of attending a future, in-person and traditional ceremony.

For Taylor Ball, Comm. ’20, who is set to graduate in June, a virtual ceremony is not a sufficient way to mark the end of her undergraduate degree. Ball said she was already having a “hard time” with the idea of saying goodbye to Queen’s when the pandemic caused the University to close physical learning spaces in March.

“[E]verything was ripped out from under me. Classes were over, friends had moved home,” Ball wrote in a statement to The Journal. “I want closure in this important area of my life.”

Aside from the transition to remote learning, the biggest impact COVID-19 had on her academic year was having to pack up and move home rapidly. 

“After classes were cancelled, it felt like everything was changing on an hourly basis,” Ball wrote. “I had to pack up and say goodbye in a matter of three days, out of fear the airlines would shut down some of the [domestic] flights home to Vancouver. One of my friends booked a 5 a.m. flight to Vancouver at 1 a.m., the day of.” 

In moving away from Kingston early, Ball is concerned because the class of 2020 has missed many “special traditions and send-offs” that help students adjust at the end of their undergraduate careers. 

When the University first announced it would offer a virtual ceremony in June, Ball said she was “so disappointed and angry” because she felt like her class was being robbed of the sense of community that is “integral” to Queen’s. 

After receiving an email from the University with a link to a survey about the ceremony on April 6, Ball was also worried because the wording was unclear about whether a traditional, in-person convocation would be organized following the pandemic. 

In a follow-up email to survey recipients, Principal Patrick Deane clarified that the University has “every intention of providing [students] with the kind of convocation experience [they] all hope for [once restrictions are lifted].”

However, the University is unable to provide more information about fall convocation because Deane said “the longer-term impact of the pandemic [is] still unclear.”

As well, Ball doesn’t want her graduating class to be split across several ceremonies with other classes, so that students would be graduating alongside strangers, instead of classmates.

As a Commerce student, Ball said she expected to graduate alongside “a sea of familiar faces” because her faculty is small. With the cancellation of other major end-of-year events across the faculty, such as Comm Prom and Dean’s Scene, Ball wants to make sure students are able to celebrate once the situation has improved. 

“I completely understand that convocation could be months or potentially years from now, but I do want a ceremony with my graduating class and faculty when things return to a new normal,” Ball wrote. “I’ve had all my classes with the same people and know almost everyone in my year. Given there are so many people I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to, I am really thrilled about [having an] in-person ceremony.”

To express her concern to the University, Ball said she “emailed and emailed and emailed” and encouraged others to do the same. She shared a draft email template in the Facebook group Overheard at Queen’s, which received a mixed response.

“I’ll admit; the tone was much more confrontational than I intended. However, I stand by the content,” Ball wrote. “I was worried if I didn’t raise my concerns and help amplify the concerns of my classmates, we would end up with a solution no one likes. I didn’t want to roll over and wait to see what happens. Graduation is something I’ve worked my whole life towards and it’s something I will fight for.”

Principal Deane reassured students that they will have a traditional convocation when the University is able to do so.

“Receiving your degree is one of life’s milestones. Right now, perhaps more than ever, we are all acutely aware of just how precious such moments are. I will do everything I can to ensure Queen’s delivers the convocation [students] so rightly deserve,” Deane wrote.

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