McGill prepares to celebrate the class of 2020 with virtual convocation ceremonies

McGill will celebrate the class of 2020 on June 18 and June 19 with virtual convocation ceremonies due to physical distancing regulations spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier announced on April 24 that the in-person convocation ceremony will be postponed until Spring 2021 provided that public health authorities permit large gatherings. 

Between June 18 and 19, McGill will host a total of 10 virtual convocation ceremonies, with one for each faculty. The administration will be releasing pre-recorded videos of each faculty’s ceremony sequentially, premiering five on June 18 and the remainder on June 19. The videos will be both faculty-specific and open to the extended graduating class of 2020. The schedule is available on the convocation website.

Véronique Bélanger, chairwoman of the Convocation Subcommittee planning the ceremonies, explained the symbolic importance of holding a virtual ceremony, as well as a postponed in-person ceremony.

“Students want the opportunity to walk across the stage,” Bélanger said. “But we also thought it was very important […] to have a virtual ceremony in the spring so that we can mark this exceptional time in the lives of students.” 

Kate Whitmore (B.A. ’20) expressed both disappointment and understanding towards the cancelled event given the unique circumstances, a feeling many graduating students are harbouring towards the suspension of the conventional in-person convocation.

“I definitely feel as though the transition from a McGill student to alumni has been made more difficult due to a lack of closure after four years at the university,” Whitmore wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune. “I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the administration’s communication with new graduates during this time [.…] Of course, it’s not ideal. However, this situation is unprecedented and […] I would expect nothing less than for McGill to adhere to public safety instructions in order to prioritize the well-being of its students and their families.”

The abrupt change of plans caused by COVID-19 ruled out a proper farewell with friends and classmates, as Alana D’Amico (BCom ’20) explained. 

“To me, I think the hardest part may have actually been the fact that [COVID-19] was so unexpected and I never got to actually say bye to some of my international friends who went back home  when COVID-19 started,” D’Amico wrote in an email to the Tribune.

The decision to hold a virtual ceremony and a postponed in-person ceremony came after extensive consultation with graduating students. A feedback webform, which garnered over 1,000 submissions, and a focus group composed of students helped to discern which elements of convocation were most dear to students. 

To make the virtual convocation as fulfilling as possible, the ceremonies will retain traditional graduation elements such as music, a bilingual convocation address, and speeches from the Chancellor and the Principal. It will also feature the names of graduates and their degrees. Super Bowl champion Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (M.D., C.M. ’18) will deliver this year’s convocation address. Attendees are encouraged to use the hashtags #McGillGrad2020 and #McGillVirtualConvocation to promote the digital event.

In planning a proper send-off for graduates, Bélanger explained that a chief goal of the convocation ceremonies is to recognize the class of 2020’s resilience and solidarity. 

“Students finished their program at a moment that was not easy,” Bélanger said. “In a way, they should be even prouder of their accomplishments, and that pride is what we are working on reflecting.”

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