Several years of hard work has finally paid off for nearly 170 UNBSJ students this past Friday, Oct. 19, at the 2012 Fall Convocation. The term “convocation” means “calling together,” and this resonated as students, faculty, special guests, and members of the community came together to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of the graduates.
Most students choose to graduate in the spring, thus the fall convocation is held to honour the students who choose to pursue higher education in unconventional circumstances; mainly those who complete degrees on a part-time basis. The Imperial Theatre, a beautiful venue in the heart of uptown Saint John, played host to the event. As for the atmosphere, it was especially warm and inviting; featuring beautiful music from the Saint John String Quartet and the timeless ambiance delivered so eloquently by the Imperial theatre.
UNBSJ’s graduates arrived in style, being led through King’s Square by the distinct melodies of bagpipes, compliments of Scottish Piper, Paul Thom. The proceedings went smoothly, opening with speeches from vice chancellor Eddy Campbell, university secretary Sarah DeVarenne, and chancellor Richard Currie who told graduates, “Today is the fulfillment of a dream.”
Awards, degrees, and honorary degrees were then issued, which took a considerable amount of time since this was also UNBSJ’s largest class of graduate-level students. However, the wait seemed miniscule when compared to the Convocation Address that followed, by Holocaust survivor, Vera Katz-Schiff, who received an honorary degree of letters from UNBSJ.
Those lucky enough to attend this event, or the lecture at UNBSJ on Friday morning were able to hear this incredible true story of survival. At age 13, Schiff was sent to Terezin; a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Today’s generation would have tremendous difficulty trying to fathom such a terrifying ordeal, but Holocaust survivors faced this reality on a daily basis, remembering the victims (like Schiff’s grandmother, parents, and sister) whose lives were stolen by Nazi forces. (See “Holocaust survivor Vera Schiff visits UNBSJ” by Ocean-Leigh Peters for the full story).
Addressing the hurdles and challenges that will face the new graduates, Schiff says, “When life kicks you to the ground, don’t give up. Fight back and get up.”.Schiff’s speech was followed by a closing remark from Heather Neilson, who welcomed the new graduates to the school’s alumni. Canada’s national anthem was performed, and UNBSJ’s 2012 fall graduates marched from the auditorium.
Alan Heward, a UNBSJ alumnus who served in the Honour Guard during previous graduation ceremonies, was present in the crowd and took a few moments after the event to discuss the opportunities available to graduates that are looking to stay involved in UNBSJ’s future. He mentioned that alumni are able to retain access to the computers, borrow books, and are also permitted to continue attending certain events on campus. He continues to occasionally volunteer on campus as well, adding, “It has enriched my life more than any other volunteer activity [that] I’ve pursued”. Heward also notes that graduates can subscribe to a magazine dedicated to alumni or visit www.unb.ca/alumni for additional information.
All in all, these graduation ceremonies are entertaining and truly important to attend if a friend or family member has completed their degree program. Each event is unique and consists of special guest speakers who, if anything like Schiff’s presentation, are sure to be memorable.
Graduation doesn’t have to be your final visit to the UNBSJ campus. Staying involved as alumni creates a network of support that can prove to be invaluable throughout one’s career.