Nova Scotia

No pomp, under the circumstances: CBU holding online convocation

What would have been Cape Breton University's largest convocation to date is being replaced by an online offering this year because of COVID-19. Some graduating students say it just won't be the same as a traditional ceremony.

Online speeches, guest book will replace formal convocation ceremony

What would have been Cape Breton University's largest convocation to date is being replaced by an online offering this year because of COVID-19. (CBC)

Navdeep Maan was planning a big celebration this weekend to mark his graduation from Cape Breton University with a diploma in public administration and management.

Maan's parents were going to travel to Nova Scotia from Punjab, India, to attend the convocation in person.

That was before Cape Breton University made the decision last month to cancel what would have been its largest convocation ceremony to date, with a graduating class of 1,450 from more than 40 countries.

"It would have been fun for me to go there and enjoy the moment," said Maan.

But instead, Maan, 26, will have a small party in his rented accommodations in Sydney, N.S., with a few of his housemates.

Navdeep Mann, of Punjab, India, hoped his parents would be able to come from India to attend his convocation at Cape Breton University. (Submitted by Navdeep Maan)

In place of the May 9 formal conferral of degrees, which traditionally takes place in the university's arena and is attended by hundreds of graduates, faculty, family and friends, CBU is planning a "virtual" convocation.

Graduates and their families can visit a university website to see recorded speeches from the university president and the valedictorian, sign a virtual guestbook and view a list of graduates.

"I'm thinking to post a good message for everyone," said Maan, adding he's disappointed, but understands the reason for the change.

Many universities in the region, including Dalhousie, Saint Mary's and the University of Prince Edward Island have cancelled their spring convocations because of COVID-19. The University of New Brunswick has announced it will combine its spring convocations in Fredericton and Saint John, with those scheduled for the fall.

CBU's registrar, Brendan MacDonald, said the university wanted to do more than simply postpone the convocation to a later date.

'A major milestone'

"We really wanted to mark the occasion. It's a major milestone in these students' lives, " he said.

The virtual convocation "hub" will be public for a month, said MacDonald, adding it tries to capture as many of the university's traditions as possible, including a musical video of the traditional closing song, Rise Again.

Maria Facchin said she was disappointed when she first heard there wouldn't be a convocation.

"You put in so much work over four years," said Facchin, who will graduate with a bachelor of science degree in psychology.

Her final year at Cape Breton University was not what she imagined. The campus closed abruptly in mid-March, and the last few weeks of class were held online.

"No one thought this would be the way our last year would go," she said.

But she's glad CBU has arranged the virtual convocation, including the online platform for messages.

"We can still get those congratulations from professors, parents and fellow graduates," Facchin said.

She said with such a diverse student body, it's also good to have one place where everyone can exchange messages.

Cape Breton University graduates Morgan McNeil, left, and Maria Facchin, centre, with their friend, Cassie Gillis. (Submitted by Maria Facchin)

Facchin's friend, Morgan McNeil, who will also graduate with a degree in psychology, said the online convocation "definitely won't do it justice."

McNeil said she doesn't have any plans to celebrate her graduation and she won't be watching the online convocation.

"I have to work," she said. "I scratched out my graduation on my calendar, and pencilled in the hours for my shift."

Spring convocation may be rescheduled

MacDonald said CBU is looking at alternate dates for an in-person graduation, perhaps in conjunction with the fall convocation.

He said while some students, especially those from other countries, may not be able to return for the ceremony, they will all receive an invitation, and he hopes many will attend.

"There's just nothing that can replace walking across that stage with your family and friends in the audience," said MacDonald.