“We’ve taken what might have been a little bit of a crisis and turned it into an opportunity,” says Sue Bennett, director of university and community relations. The “little bit of crisis” she refers to is the closure of the Gryphon Dome, where U of G’s summer convocation ceremonies have been held since 2002.

With some 3,500 students expected to graduate in June, not having a location could indeed be a crisis. But Bennett and special projects and convocation manager Claire Alexander have found a way to accommodate all those graduates in War Memorial Hall. You might ask how, since the dome held up to 2,000 people, and War Mem holds less than one-third of that number.

The solution is to have more ceremonies – many more.

“We’re going from seven convocation ceremonies to 21,” says Alexander. The 21 ceremonies will be held between June 13 and 17. As in the past, each ceremony will also be webcast.

Given the potentially tight space, a new electronic system has been created to allow students to choose which of the ceremonies they would like to attend from the ones assigned to their colleges − some colleges are represented at five different convocations − and to order tickets for their guests. In the past, students were simply assigned a convocation date and time. Two tickets are provided free for each student who registers, and additional tickets are available for $25 each.

And students won’t need to worry about forgetting the tickets at home in the excitement of getting ready; all tickets will be held with the student’s name card and hood to be given out when they check in for the ceremony.

No one will be admitted to War Memorial Hall without a ticket, although tickets may be sold at the door if there is space available.

“The online registration system has been very well received,” adds Bennett. “It’s working effectively, and the students appreciate that they can take care of this online. After convocation, we’ll definitely evaluate the system to see whether we will maintain it for the future.”

The smaller audience and graduating group at each time means that the ceremonies will be more intimate and shorter, with only 130 to 150 graduates crossing the stage rather than the 400 or more who might have graduated during each ceremony in previous summer events. “That’s another bonus for those attending,” says Alexander.

One challenge, however, is that additional volunteers are needed to help out. “At each convocation, and there will be five each day, we need to have six volunteers giving out name cards and hoods, four more to help the students line up and find seats, and five or six to act as ushers for the audience,” explains Alexander.  “We encourage members of the University community to take part in celebrating with us. The students are so excited and proud of what they’ve accomplished. It’s wonderful to be a part of this positive experience.”

Those interested in volunteering should contact Alexander at c.alexander@exec.uoguelph.ca or register to volunteer online at Summer Convocation 2011.

Organizing this “super convocation” has gone surprisingly well so far, and Bennett credits the IT team in the Office of Registrarial Services and Hospitality Services who set up the online registration system. There is also a core team of people who work with Alexander in the planning process to make these events successful. The team includes people from Physical Resources, the registrar’s office and hospitality, as well as Prof. John Greenwood, who serves as chief marshal; plant agriculture technician Ron Dutton, who provides flowers; and Ontario Veterinary College videographer Kevin Hogg, who handles the webcasting.

Bennett says this year’s 21 ceremonies will still focus on each graduate’s moment in the spotlight. “We take pride in making this a special moment for each and every graduate who walks across the stage.”