The University of British Columbia’s first in-person graduation ceremonies since 2019 have hit an unexpected hurdle and won’t look the same as normal.
Thousands of unique-to-UBC ceremonial caps, gowns and hoods—packed onto eight palettes—are in a courier truck “somewhere east of Hope” and will likely not arrive in time for the ceremonies due to travel disruptions from last week’s unprecedented storm, says Liz King, director of ceremonies and events at UBC.
“Obviously this is a minor inconvenience when you look at the tragic loss of life, and the damage and destruction in communities across B.C.,” says King. “Our hearts go out to all of those who are affected by the floods and landslides.”
The courier truck left gown maker and UBC regalia partner Gaspard’s Winnipeg storage facility on Monday, Nov. 15 and was due to arrive today. Fall congregation ceremonies begin tomorrow and run to Nov. 26.
The storm has meant that delivery is no longer guaranteed.
King and the graduation team—in particular Rodolfo Calero of UBC’s Bookstore—have worked through their options and come up with a unique solution that ensures graduating students will get their cap and gown experience.
“Planning for the first in-person graduation ceremonies since the pandemic began has been challenging in its own way, but this fall’s ceremony has really been the graduation of the unexpected,” says King.
“The most important thing for us is to make sure that it’s a wonderful experience for the grads. We are working around-the-clock to do our best to deliver that experience.”
Instead of the normal 2,500 caps, gowns and hoods required for fall convocation—many of which are custom designed to match degrees and levels of education—600 black gowns will be borrowed from the University of Victoria.
The gowns will be cleaned daily and worn by students graduating the following day.
As is tradition, graduating students can keep their mortarboards, 2,500 of which have been collected and sourced from post-secondary institutions in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island including: Capilano University, BCIT, Emily Carr University of Art & Design, Douglas College and Langara College.
“Across all of our institutions, we all know how important the graduation experience is for students,” says King. “Wearing academic regalia makes the experience memorable for so many of them.”
The cap and gown attire also keeps the playing field level, adds King.
“When everyone is wearing the same gowns there’s no feeling of, ‘I’m not dressed well enough,’ so we can keep the events accessible for all,” says King. “We promise to return the gowns clean and ready for our friends at UVic and will be returning the favour to more than half a dozen schools who are coming to the rescue with mortarboards.”
Jeanie Gunn, manager of convocation and events at UVic, says the decision to lend the gowns to UBC was simple.
“Convocation is the culmination and celebration of many years of dedication and focus,” says Gunn. “We know first-hand how tricky it can be to plan and execute a gathering of this size especially while adapting to a global pandemic and province-wide transportation challenges. It was an honour to do all that we could to help our colleagues at UBC pull together this special day for so many worthy graduates.”
The fall congregation ceremonies are already different from years past as ceremonies are running at half-capacity in order to comply with provincial health guidelines. Instead of eight ceremonies with 350 students crossing the stage, there will be 15 ceremonies, with 175 students graduating per ceremony.
This change follows a major shift in 2020 where graduation ceremonies were all held virtually due to COVID-19 event restrictions. UBC is in the process of organizing a 2022 in-person celebration for all graduates that attended a virtual ceremony. (More details will be announced in the coming months.)
For King, being able to move quickly and adapt to emerging issues while planning events during a pandemic is critical.
“There are hundreds of colleagues and volunteers across campus who want to make sure graduation is special for our students and their guests regardless of what’s happening in the world,” she says. “Over the past 20 months, we’ve gotten really good at pivoting and thinking outside the box because we need to for the students. When we see the pride on their faces as they accept their diplomas, it’s all worth it.”
EDITORS: Video b-roll clips available of UBC delivery truck being loaded with borrowed gowns on the UVic campus on Sunday.