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Student opposition to virtual convocation has UNBC committed to the real deal after pandemic eases

UNBC interim president Geoff Payne

Real world pushback has resulted in the rethinking of a virtual event.

UNBC’s convocation plans have changed, a day after the university announced it would hold a virtual convocation, due restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hearing your feedback and in acknowledgement of your challenging situation, I commit to holding a traditional face-to-face convocation for the Class of 2020 once we have received the green light to safely hold events under the guidance of federal and provincial health agencies,” UNBC Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Geoff Payne said in a letter to the university’s Class of 2020. “We will also hold the virtual ceremony on June 26, as some students will be unable to return to campus after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

An online petition, started by College of Arts, Social, and Health Sciences student Danika Serafin, opposing the virtual convocation secured 1,451 petitions overnight.

“Your graduates of 2020 have spent countless hours managing personal, financial, professional, physical, and mental stress throughout their post-secondary education with the end goal of walking across the stage at convocation,” Serafin stated in the petition. “We have anxiously awaited the day we would be surrounded by the support of our family, friends and loved ones to celebrate our academic accomplishments. We have dreamed for this day to come, for many of us, since the day we could tell our parents what we wanted to do when we grew up.”

Serafin suggested that rather than providing a virtual convocation, UNBC consider rescheduling our convocation date to 2021.

“We realize how much time and effort goes into assembling convocation and would be thrilled to have our ceremony the day before the graduating class of 2021,” she wrote. “I have reached out to the differing colleges that make up the graduating class of 2020 and the consensus is that we will be patient, and travel next year, to attend a convocation ceremony that honours the hard work and strength we have endured during such stressful times.”

Payne said the original decision to have a virtual convocation was a difficult one, reached after considering moving to the fall and other possible dates.

“… But it is extremely difficult to pick a specific date because the future is unpredictable and we simply do not know if we’ll be back to normal in the fall,” he said. “My decision was intended to provide some certainty and clarity to allow the university to recognize our Class of 2020 graduates this spring.”

In the end, he said, he and the university has asked students and staff to adapt and change during these unprecedented times.

“I, too, must be willing to adapt to change,” he said.

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