Shouldering ceremonial tasks

Afton Cayford, associate professor emeritus in Mathematics, is the 2011 recipient of the Slonecker Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contribution. Cayford has volunteered for graduation ceremonies on the Vancouver campus for more than 45 years. He will be carrying the mace again this year.

In the mid-1960s I was asked to help with graduation ceremonies, then supervised with great flair by Professor Malcolm McGregor. At that time, Professor Ben Moyles carried the mace and I led student processions, caught students who tripped coming down the steps, and performed various other tasks. When Ben gave up carrying the mace, Prof. John Denison and I began to share the job.

Graduation ceremonies were then held in the War Memorial Gymnasium. The move to the Chan Centre for Performing Arts increased the number of ceremonies to 23, with four ceremonies often being held each day. We soon decided to encourage other faculty members to help carry the mace.

The mace was designed by Haida carvers Bill Reid and George Norris. It was carved from a solid block of wood from a yew tree that was donated by alumni. Carrying the mace could appear daunting because it weighs about 20 pounds, but it can easily be
cradled in the crook of the arm and the shoulder. Professor Moura Quayle was the first woman to carry the mace and now Professor Elizabeth Edinger often does so for Law School graduations.

One of the most pleasurable duties comes at the end of each graduation ceremony when the chancellor and the mace bearer oblige proud families by posing for pictures with graduating students. By now, I will have been one of the most photographed people at UBC.

The most memorable occasion for me was in April 2004, when UBC, along with SFU, granted in the same ceremony honorary degrees to three Nobel Laureates: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Professor Shirin Ebadi. On that occasion I carried the mace for the ceremony and had the great pleasure of meeting the three illustrious degree recipients.