Challenging times call for creative and collaborative solutions, and that’s how the University of Guelph will be celebrating the graduating class of 2020.
Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevents the University from holding in-person convocation this month, members from all of its colleges have created a virtual celebration for winter, summer and fall graduates of the Class of 2020.
On Oct. 28 at 4 p.m., a virtual convocation celebration will premiere on the U of G’s convocation “Watch and Engage” web page where you can watch and celebrate at any time.
The virtual convocation website will guide grads to their college-specific celebrations. Grads and their families are also encouraged to join the celebrations on social media by using #GuelphGrad2020 in their tweets and posts.
“We had hoped to hold in-person ceremonies in October, allowing fall graduates and those who had their June convocation postponed due to COVID-19 to cross the stage in front of family and friends,” said president and vice-chancellor Charlotte Yates in a message to students. “But government protocols and public health concerns about physical distancing and large public gatherings continue.”
Convocation is one of the major highlights of the academic year for everyone on campus, she added. But health and safety remain top priorities during the pandemic, and a virtual convocation is the best way to protect students and their families, as well as faculty, staff and the broader community.
A unique component of the virtual celebration is a video address involving students from each college, sharing thoughts, hopes and well wishes. There will also be an address by the president, congratulatory messages from faculty and other campus community members, and greetings from local politicians and alumni.
The hopeful messages of support and congratulations will let grads know that many people are thinking about them, care for them and wish them the very best, said Claire Alexander, special projects manager in U of G’s office of ceremonies and events.
“Putting this together has very much been a collaborative effort, trying to adapt to this new reality of virtual,” Alexander said. “Everyone really pitched in because we want to create something special for the graduating students.”
In October’s #GuelphGrad on Tour event, a series of small photo sessions were held in Toronto, Burlington, Mississauga and Guelph, allowing graduates to don a gown and have photographs taken with U of G backdrops.
The graduating class of 2020 received their degrees in a special keepsake box with a tassel and confetti cannon to celebrate their accomplishments. Most grads have already received their grad boxes, while some deliveries are delayed due to limitations faced by couriers.
“We hope to communicate to our grads that we are thinking about and celebrating them,” Alexander said, adding that the campus community also shares in the grief grads feel over missing out on in-person convocation ceremonies. “There are lots of people thinking about them.”
Yates said she believes a strong alternative to an in-person convocation will ensure a memorable occasion.
“I believe that graduates and their families and friends will feel they have been a part of something very special.”
Top convocation medals have been awarded to graduating students.
The W.C. Winegard Medal is the top convocation award presented to an undergraduate student at U of G. Named for former president William Winegard, this medal recognizes academic achievement and contributions to University and community life.
While completing a B.Sc. in food science, Sidra Mohammed worked in university and food manufacturing research labs, where she helped develop prototype products for reducing food waste and studied drug pathways. She served as a peer helper with U of G’s Experiential Learning Hub and wellness centre, volunteered with University orientation and the Link program of Student Experience, and took part in off-campus activities supporting youth in crisis and homeless people affected by COVID-19.
The D. F. Forster Medals are the most prestigious graduate convocation awards at U of G. Named for former president Donald Forster, the awards recognize one master’s and one PhD student for academic achievement, motivation, leadership and citizenship.
Heather Petrick (Magisteriate) studied biomedical science for her undergrad before completing a master’s degree in human health and nutritional sciences. She has co-authored 13 papers on topics ranging from cellular biology to whole body physiology in leading peer-reviewed journals. Among numerous leadership activities, she led an annual HK5K fundraising run, helped organize a top exercise physiology conference, volunteered in community health and fitness programs, and competed as a varsity cross-country and track and field athlete.
Fatima Haque (Doctoral) co-authored journal articles and led conference presentations during her PhD in biological engineering, during which she conducted pioneering research on agricultural soils in climate change mitigation. She has served as a graduate student representative for U of G and School of Engineering groups and volunteered for orientation and international student events. She volunteered for social service activities in India and as a mentor for Teach for India.
Established in 1984, the Walter Vaughan Medal is named for Walter Vaughan, a former secretary of the University Senate who was committed to student involvement in University governance.
A biomedical sciences student, Cameron Stotts pursued numerous leadership opportunities on campus, including advocating for student wellness support, student space and financial aid as an undergraduate representative on Senate and Board of Governors and as a director with the Central Student Association. He helped raise funds through Relay for Life and served as a peer helper and a volunteer for orientation, intramural sports and wellness activities.