It seems I have spent more time hearing about or personally sitting in graduation ceremonies this year then ever before.
Whether it was for high school -- such as my friend Pat's daughter in Ottawa (way to go Shannon), or for Grade 8 and my friend Elaine's son Adam in Richmond Hill, or elementary school, which, in the case of my nephew Noah in Montreal I couldn't attend, or at York University for my niece Naomi, where the convocation lasted 5 hours but had the best food.
And this year, for the first time, I was invited to attend the convocation ceremony at the University of Toronto. I was there to represent Centennial College while my 17 students in the class of 2010 Joint Journalism program of Centennial/U of T Scarborough received their gowns and hoods and handshakes from the chancellor, former Ontario premier David Peterson.
I had to sit up on the stage, wearing my own black robe, as befitting a member of the faculty, and I took a bad seat by mistake. It was directly behind the podium, so no chance of reading a novel or texting on my new I-phone when there were long pauses between my students names being called out: the event was being televised on the web live! (Full disclosure: I did chew gum and fan myself. Sorry, but it was hot under those lights!)
The ceremony itself was very stately and traditional, with the mace being carried in, an organist, and the decorum very heavy. They even asked the families not to clap as each name is called out, but rather to wait until all the graduates had finished their trips up to the stage and were all returned to their seats.
At first, most of the guests were content to smile and take photos from their seats in the galleries. And there were soooo many graduates. (Later I would find out that in fact, this was a short ceremony of just about 2 hours.)
But soon, despite the initial request for decorum, all it took was one beaming family who let out a loud Middle eastern or Arabic "la la la la la" of congratulations to get the whole place laughing and clapping, as that family's daughter shook hands with the university chancellor and the president. After this, that prompted other families, emboldened, to shout out their own traditional praises -- such as a proud father's "You Go Girl" when it was that student's turn to receive her diploma.
So much for formality. So much for august traditions. The new U of T student body and their families are forging a new kind of graduation. The families and this crop of graduates mirrored the diverse demographics of Scarborough and the area where UTSC/Centennial's campus is located: so many visible minority faces -- Chinese, Korean, Tamil, Pakistani, Indian, plus a few Italian Canadians, one fellow in a kilt, and some women in hijabs.
The faculty and university brass? Still mostly older white folks.
That day, I too, felt emboldened to break tradition, in my own way. I snapped pictures of my students with my I phone as they crossed the stage. I wasn't able to actually congratulate them or shake their hands, as the faculty is seated too far away from the students.
While I was honoured to be invited to the U of T ceremony, I prefered the more informal atmosphere of Centennial College's graduation June 17 . Why? Because the speeches are shorter, the graduates and families can clap and cheer all they want, and the teachers get to line up right where the students leave the stage for a hug and handshake, and..there is lovely music.
Here are some photos of my students doing their thing! Congratulations to all of you who have "made it".