Convocation volunteers: Helping to the highest degree

- Robie Liscomb

Convocation. It’s the culmination of years of discipline, dedication and effort for the thousands of UVic students receiving their academic credentials each June and November. And ensuring that the ceremony goes smoothly and memorably for the students, their families and friends depends upon the efforts of hundreds of convocation volunteers.

Each Spring Convocation involves over 200 volunteers—and approximately 150 for Fall Convocation—who experience their own special perspective on the occasion while performing a variety of necessary roles. Volunteers help students with their robes, caps and hoods; serve as marshals, coordinating and directing the various processions to and from the auditorium and sta#8805; distribute programs to audience members; and—critically—ensure that each student receives the right degree, diploma or certificate.

"I love seeing the excitement that comes with convocation—the happiness on the students’ faces that they’re graduating—that all the hard work has paid off—and the excitement on their families’ faces,” says Zoe Lu, who has been volunteering since 2005. Graduate Secretary in the Department of Sociology, Lu has worked mainly as a robing assistant, stationed in the Clearihue Building assisting students with their regalia and dealing with their last-minute jitters and questions. “As a graduate secretary, it’s wonderful to be part of the students’ journey from start to finish—from the time they’re accepted into the program to the time they’re defending and graduating with their master’s or doctoral degree.”

Jane Morrison, UVic associate archivist, was encouraged to volunteer by a colleague in 2006. “It seemed like a great opportunity to be involved in the big day of the university and to take advantage of what makes working at a university special,” says Morrison, one of two stage assistants who make sure each student gets the right diploma.

“One stage assistant is stationed at the stairs where the grads come down onto the stage and reads their name slips into a headset,” she explains. “You have a partner at the other side of the stage with another headset who then makes sure the diplomas are in the correct order and removes any no-shows.” The best perq of the job for Morrison: when the university registrar allowed her to personally hand her friend his PhD diploma.

Shortly after he arrived at UVic about 25 years ago, Dr. David Harrington (chemistry) was recruited as a convocation volunteer by his colleague Dr. Reg Mitchell.

“Reg had devised the way the ceremony moves students around years ago, so that the graduating students are guided inevitably and infallibly through the ceremony,” says Harrington. “He had been leading the students for every ceremony for years, I believe, and at some point he realized he needed to train some successors, or he would never be able to retire. At this point, I started leading the right-hand file, and have been doing that now, at least two ceremonies per year, for quite a few years.”

“One thing I like about convocation is the students are always happy,” Harrington says. “The rest of the year, at least some of them will be unhappy about their grades, the way courses are going and so on, but on convocation day they always enjoy themselves. I like the colour and pageantry of the ceremony. And I have heard a lot of interesting addresses by honorary degree recipients.”

Spring Convocation this year takes place in nine ceremonies over the week of June 10–14. More information about convocation volunteering: or contact Sandra Carlson at



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Keywords: convocation

People: Zoe Lu, Jane Morrison, David Harrington, Reg Mitchell

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