Calgary post-secondary schools explore varying graduation plans

CALGARY (CITYNEWS) – Post-secondary institutions around the city are saying farewell to graduates differently in 2020.

For all of Calgary’s universities and colleges, graduations would have taken place over the next couple of weeks. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on gatherings, the schools have been forced to alter their plans to one of two options.

Option number one: host a virtual graduation.

While some post-secondary institutions can fall back on pre-existing fall ceremonies, Ambrose University doesn’t have that option.

“It was either we do it now or we postpone it. But there was so many uncertainties about the fall, and there still are,” said Ambrose President Dr. Gordon Smith. “Our best thought was we need to do something now, because there’s too much uncertainty about the fall.”

SAIT students found out on Tuesday the school would be hosting online ceremonies on June 18, nearly three months after the institution announced its plans to close their doors.

“It’s disappointing for sure,” said Darin Bain, broadcast student at SAIT. “I would have liked to have waited until things are normal, but you have to realize that SAIT has other things to worry about like figuring out what to do for the school year next year.”

For Ambrose University, SAIT students and their families, not being able to have an in-person graduation has been a tough blow, but graduates are not surprised their school made the change.

“I kind of knew it was coming. It sucks I won’t be seeing my classmates or my teachers one final time,” said James Dunn, broadcast student at SAIT. “If COVID didn’t happen, it would have been fine. But it is for the best interest of public health.”

Ambrose University held their ceremonies this past weekend and called the event a success.

“The idea of grad-in-a-box I think was just, really quite brilliant,” said Dr. Smith. “Every one of the graduates received a really handsome box that contained their caps, their parchment, and a lot of mementos from the year from the university.

“The speakers were as good as ever, but somehow seemed more personal and poignant.”

“Definitely not what we expected,” said Madison McBlain, undergraduate valedictorian at Ambrose University. “But personally, I’m also pretty impressed with the way the university kind of curated an online experience.

“I think lots of us have been feeling a little bit fatigued by all of the Zoom meetings and every form of communication being moved to a digital platform. But honestly, the online ceremony was an unexpectedly nice way to connect with people who were graduating with you.”

McBlain said the school hosted the event on YouTube live, so everyone was able to comment during the ceremony.

Option number two: postpone graduation until the fall and explore different plans.

The University of Calgary, Mount Royal University and St. Mary’s University have all made the decision to postpone graduation until the fall.

“I think there’s a great virtue of being able to celebrate in person. There’s no question that families and especially our students love that impact,” said St. Mary’s University President and Vice Chancellor Dr. Gerry Turcotte. “For administrators, faculty and staff, it’s also quite a joyful event to be able to celebrate in person with their students.”

Dr. Turcotte believes an in-person ceremony in mid-November can be exciting.

“Our hope is that we will have moved far enough down with COVID-19 that it will be possible to have a ceremony,” he said.

The University of Calgary said in a statement that their decision was related to Alberta Health Services guidelines.

“As we monitored the pandemic, it became clear that the situation was not going to improve in the short term, so we made several decisions,” read the statement. “We are currently in the planning stages of a potential online event to recognize the achievements of our graduates.

“We have tentatively added extra ceremonies in the fall and can make adjustments depending on demand.”

Mount Royal University said in a statement: “We understand postponing the spring convocation ceremonies until the fall is disappointing, but the health of our graduands, their families and friends, as well as MRU employees, is our top priority.

“We are looking into a range of options for the fall ceremony, from virtual to in person, and everything in between. We plan to make it extra special and hope graduates will choose to join us for the ceremonies in the fall.”

While graduations have either been pushed back or moved online, most post-secondary schools will be doing additional celebrations, either in the fall or on the original graduation dates.

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