U of T prepares to celebrate the Class of 2022 at Convocation Hall

May 19, 2022 by Geoffrey Vendeville - U of T News

Graduating students will make a much-anticipated return to the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall this spring as in-person ceremonies resume for the first time in two years.

With friends and family looking on, more than 15,500 graduates are scheduled to cross the hall’s stage during 32 ceremonies held between June 2 and June 24.

The in-person ceremonies will include traditions that have distinguished U of T convocations for more than a century. They include organ music, convocation speakers, hoods and gowns, a bedel carrying U of T’s gold-plated mace and a 51-bell carillon ringing out from atop Soldiers’ Tower.

There will be some new elements, too. They range from the introduction of an Eagle Feather into the official ceremony — in recognition of the university’s enduring relationship with Indigenous Peoples — to new designated gathering spaces for graduating students, friends and family before and after the ceremonies.

President Meric Gertler said he is eager to share the stage physically with graduates as they celebrate one of life’s most memorable milestones.

“One of the great privileges and honours of my office is to see the smiles on students’ faces — and on the faces of their loved ones — as they receive degrees that represent years of hard work and achievement,” President Gertler said. “I’m delighted that we are once again able to host graduation ceremonies at Convocation Hall —  a much welcome return to a cherished tradition and, we hope, a sign of better things to come as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic.”

He added that the Class of 2022 is among several recent cohorts of graduating students who pursued a degree amid significant worldwide uncertainty.

“It’s difficult enough to earn a university degree in normal times, let alone when the world is grappling with a pandemic, war and economic disruption,” he said. “Yet, graduating students from U of T once again rose to the challenge by demonstrating their incredible resilience and resourcefulness, and by looking out for one another and their communities.

“Let me be the first to congratulate you on this extraordinary accomplishment.”

Chancellor Rose Patten, who serves as chair of convocation and confers all degrees, said she, too, is excited to convene a ceremony inside the university’s storied Convocation Hall.

“Among all my duties as the university’s 34th chancellor, there are none I enjoy more than granting degrees to students who have each worked so hard to expand their knowledge, advance their careers and benefit society,” Patten said. “I am excited to once again be in the presence of students as they celebrate their success at the university and prepare to embark on a new chapter in their lives.”

Spring convocation begins with the Temerty Faculty of Medicine ceremony on June 2 and ends with the New College ceremony on the 24th. The ceremonies feature a chancellor’s procession that includes the president, chancellor, bedel and esquires. Graduating students, meanwhile, will be presented on the stage one-by-one in alphabetical order. Each ceremony will also be livestreamed at U of T’s Convocation Hub.

In keeping with U of T’s extended mask mandate, everyone will be required to wear a mask while in the hall and graduates will also be required to wear their masks while in the procession and recession — both indoors and outdoors. Masks will not be required in outdoor gathering spaces.

In a first for U of T convocations, an Indigenous member of the community will lead the chancellor’s procession into Convocation Hall carrying an Eagle Feather. The feather itself was presented to the Office of the President by Elder Andrew Wesley on behalf of U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee when it delivered its final report in 2017. While the Eagle Feather is not a universal symbol of Indigenous Peoples and nations, its inclusion was supported by U of T’s Indigenous community. The Eagle Feather Bearer will be drawn from members of the university’s Indigenous community of students, staff members, faculty members, alumni and Elders.

“The eagle holds extremely high significance for many Indigenous nations,” said Office of Indigenous Initiatives Director Shannon Simpson, who, along with her predecessor, consulted with members of the Elders Circle, Indigenous leadership across the three U of T campuses and the broader Indigenous community. “The eagle is what brings our thoughts and messages to the Creator.

“Receiving an Eagle Feather is one of the highest honours and the feather must be cared for and handled with high respect.”

In another change, graduating students and their guests will be invited to celebrate in Willcocks Common, near New College, instead of gathering on Front Campus before or after their ceremonies. Galbraith Road will be temporarily closed to traffic when the Student Recessional exits Convocation Hall. These changes are needed to accommodate construction of the Landmark Project, which includes the installation of a geoexchange system designed to significantly reduce U of T’s carbon footprint.

After the formal ceremony, graduates can pose for pictures in a photobooth operated by Alumni Relations at Willcocks, or head to the U of T Bookstore to have their degrees framed or purchase souvenirs.

Students and their loved ones are encouraged to share their photos on social media using #UofTGrad22. An Instagram AR filter, which creates a Convocation Hall background, is already available on the social app.

Silvia Rosatone, director of the Office of Convocation, said university staff have been working diligently to find creative solutions so every U of T graduating class has fond memories of convocation. Due to public health restrictions caused by the global pandemic, virtual convocation ceremonies were held over the past two years that were watched by tens of thousands of people worldwide. Meanwhile, staff worked behind the scenes to prepare more than  41,000  parchments  that were couriered to graduates around the world.

“U of T students put in a tremendous amount of effort to earn their degrees, so each year we strive to host a ceremony that honours their achievements and respects the university’s traditions — even in challenging times,” Rosatone said.

Rosatone added that she was impressed with the many innovative ways that recent U of T grads found to mark the occasion at home, from recreating “Con Hall” in their backyards with aluminum foil mortarboards to celebrating with elaborately decorated cakes and even creating a floral wall display out of old assignments and course syllabi.

“Seeing graduating classes and their loved ones celebrate all over the world was a highlight of the last few years,” Rosatone said. “But I think I speak for all of us at the university when I say we’re glad to have the opportunity to again celebrate our grads in person.”