June 21, 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

Don't let the title fool you. I hate pomp and circumstance

How odd then that a few Fridays ago, I found myself a part of a convocation platform party, head to toe in regalia, filing past onlookers and graduands attending one of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s convocation ceremonies.

This behaviour, I assure you, is vastly out of character.

13 years ago, right about now, I begrudgingly sat through three hours of my high school graduation ceremony. I didn’t want to be there; didn’t see the point. But, the parents obviously wanted me to walk across that stage, so I did. About 650 of us, piled into the local hockey arena (how very Kamloops!). Sitting beside me, Heather Challenger, a friend at least to natter away with and one row in front of me, Craig Black, and Eric Brewer (good old alphabetical seating) passing a Nintendo GameBoy back and forth, over whose shoulders I could look to take my mind of the drudgery of this event. My diploma sits either in a binder or a shoebox. I’m not sure where.

Nine years ago, right about now, I begrudgingly filed my way in to my Langara College graduation ceremony. I didn’t want to be there, either. I believe I was pressured into attending by my mum, dad, sister, and girlfriend. My diploma is not in a shoe box, it has been upgraded to a portfolio binder so I can prove to employers that I have the credential.

And four years ago, right about now… I was flying home from a vacation in Turkey. Ha! you thought I was gonna say I was at a grad. Nope. I skipped my next graduation, this time from…Kwantlen. In Spring 2006, I put my foot down and said I would not be pressured into doing something I had zero desire to do. The Turkey trip didn’t actually conflict with the convocation ceremony; though I believe that is the excuse I used with classmates to keep them off my case.

So why then, was I standing up there last week, shaking the new graduates’ hands just after the hands of the school dean, the university chancellor, and the university president? Do I belong there?

It was last year, right about now, when I got a call from Kwantlen asking if I would consider being a board member for the Alumni Association. After some initial discussions with the exec director from the office of advancement, I decided to put my name forward.

My experience at Kwantlen was, after all, a rewarding and engaging one, and after I left the school I have returned on several occasions to speak with students in the PR program about what I got out of the school and how that has translated into my real world experience. As well, I’ve had prospective students ‘interview’ me about Kwantlen and life thereafter as they consider the school for themselves. As such, when the idea of being a board member for the alum association came up, I decided to go for it. I was brought on to the board, and now I’m Vice-Chair of the thing.

So, I stood there at grad in my role as Vice-Chair of the Alumni Association of Kwantlen Polytechnic University and greeted each grad and welcomed them to the alumni association of which they are now a part (ooh, and I gave them some gifties, too.)

From this perspective, the experience of a convocation ceremony was very different for me. Yes, I had to march in the processional to Edward Elgar’s March #1 of pomp and circumstance. Terribly cliché.

But beyond that, I enjoyed the perspective of watching the experience of others. And this is not to say I have not watched others before. Much as I hate grad ceremonies, I appreciate that they are important to others as milestone markers. But that still doesn’t explain why I was there.

In a world where the University of British Columbia has just raised the minimum grade point average required for entry to an ‘A’ across the board, I think it was in a comment that was made during the Kwantlen president’s remarks to the graduating class that rings true to me. He said that kwantlen does not believe that exclusivity is a requirement for excellence.

And that speaks to simple folk like me. I was never top of my class, but at times a decent student none the less. Never good enough to make it into a ‘big’ school, however. But I was able to get into Kwantlen, and now I have a university degree that in no way do I believe came with a sacrifice in quality of education. The program size was small, so lots of personal attentions with faculty whom I still keep in touch with four years after grad. It is a teaching school, not a research school, which means faculty pay attention to you, and not their next journal article. And by the end of it I won two scholarships; one a small monetary sum that bought a few text books, the other a fully paid opportunity for further study through a short certificate program at the University of Calgary (this was not part of Kwantlen, but I applied at the encouragement and with the assistance of the faculty at Kwantlen, thus, I owe them thanks!).

No one that shook my hand on Friday knew me (save a few PR students crossing the stage), or my story. But I am sure there are many who crossed the stage with a similar tale. So that’s why I was there. To celebrate an educational institute that is concerned with being accessible to its community, and just as concerned with making sure its students succeed. It worked for me, and I trust it has worked for the class of 2010 as well. Congrats to all of you.

I’m not about to frame my degrees or anything, but if asked to attend convocation again, I’ll happily stand up to shake some more hands.
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