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Blog: Thursday, June 15th, 2017

The Joy & Promise of Convocation

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

As you know, it is convocation season all around our district and province. We have eight different schools that host this very special rite of passage, and this year we will have over 1200 students cross the stage and receive their diploma in front of expectant parents, grandparents and friends. I have attended all of our school’s commencement ceremonies at least once, and have come to appreciate their unique flavours, but also the fundamental things they have in common. From the very small graduating classes at Abby Virtual, to the graduation class of Yale Secondary with almost 300 students, they are all amazing and joyous occasions.

This year, I attended Yale’s and Robert Bateman’s ceremonies. Each was unique, and both were memorable events. When I arrived at the Entertainment Centre (which is a great venue for the ceremonies), I observed the students making last minute preparations in the muster area, adjusting their caps, fixing their gowns, and of course, taking selfies with classmates. It is fascinating how some students are locked into the formality of the event with dresses, shirts and tiee, while others are more invested in comfort by wearing shorts and sandals. Either way, they are re-assured by staff and ushered into the arena to the jubilant cheers of family and friends.

Speeches

The events typically start with speeches by dignitaries (a trustee, a senior staff member, and a video from the Chief of Police). Having done many of these, we are live to the plight of these students, some of whom have to sit for three plus hours, so we generally keep our comments short… at least we try to! Of course, we have to congratulate them, poke a little fun at them, and pass along some encouraging advice (we all give advice). A favourite part of the ceremony are the scholarships. Students are honoured for their hard work in various areas and are awarded scholarships and bursaries for academics, athletics and the arts. It is a testament to the generosity of our community that every year hundreds of thousands of dollars are provided to give our students a leg up on their post-secondary journey. Between the two ceremonies I attended this year, students were awarded over $350,000 in scholarships.

Two Special Addresses

Another favourite part of the event are the valedictorian and principal addresses.  Again, schools are unique in how they do it. Some like to have a male and female, others select the top academic student, and others offer a blend of the two. Either way, it always seems to work out.  They are always rather impressive young people who represent their classmates with dignity and good humour. This year I observed a Yale student, Austin, speak for 10 minutes without once looking down at his notes. He had memorized his speech, but delivered it with pace, humour and sentimentality. Robert Bateman had two students, Kyle and Alysha, deliver an equally impressive tag team speech. Of course, the principal’s address has the same effect. It is another opportunity to reflect on the journey of the students, to celebrate the year of grad activities, poke fun at a few of them, and of course, to provide them some advice (and I’ll say it again… we all have advice for them) for the future.

The Moment of Truth

The looks on the students’ faces as they cross the stage are as priceless as they are unique. Despite having rehearsed earlier in the day, some will invariably forget the routine: hand your name card to the announcer (a VP or counsellor), wait for your name to be called, shake the trustee’s hand, shake the superintendent’s hand, greet the principal who will move your tassel, pose for a picture. Many schools have an added wrinkle of having the kids to bring a toonie to make a donation to a worthy cause. Either way, this sounds simple, right? Guess again! You only need to experience the moment with these kids to know why so many of them mess it up a little. Some hear their name and virtually run across the stage, setting a world record for the fastest handshakes in history. It is invariably their principal who has to slow them down to enjoy in the moment. Some express their nervousness the opposite way…not sure what to do and have to be pointed to each subsequent step.  You would be amazed at how many sweaty palms I shake. And then there are the kids who genuinely savour the moment. The give-away typically comes with a raucous cheer when their name is called. Then they strut, Bernie (or whatever the new dance is that year) across the stage, relishing each moment, often to the encouragement of the entire arena. These are the kids who will hug you, dance with you, and laugh with you. I have actually been lifted off the ground by a few of these kids.

Of course, there are the student quotes. Most of the students have something endearing to say about their parents and teachers who have literally willed them through school. Others have a special quote, and there are others that are simply hilarious. A few of note:

  • Touching: “Shout outs to my mother for being the strongest person I have ever known.  She is a mother of four and is my hero.
  • Inspirational: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing the attempt.” (Shakespeare)
  • Funny: Sarah is utilizing copious amounts of effort to avoid tumbling haphazardly upon this stage.  She would like to sincerely express her gratitude to everyone for making her high school experience exceed immensely the sub-par mediocrity she originally expected.”

This year I had two very special moments with students crossing the stage. The first was with my niece (see pic below) who thanks to her very committed teachers and parents has had a great year at Yale secondary. There is nothing like welcoming family on the stage. The second was Jared, a student from Robert Bateman who invited me to the ceremony in January in part because he had set a goal be out of his wheelchair and walk across the stage. Those of you who were there know that Jared more than walked across the stage (see pic below). A long-time Elvis fan, Jared danced across the stage to ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ He brought the house down! This will be a lifelong memory for all in attendance.

Presenting…the class of 2017

Of course, the culmination is when the class is presented. Despite the principal’s attempt to remind students to be careful with the toss of the cap because it has to be later retrieved and you may poke an eye out, students cannot help but let their caps fly. And, I don’t blame them. It is a special punctuation to thirteen years of hard work, one that is extremely challenging for some students. So I like to see the caps fly. We all know they have earned it.

I will close here with a tradition that is common to most of our student’s speeches: thanking the many staff and parents on grad committees who spend countless hours to make this event a very special one in the lives of our students. It is a well-earned honour for our graduates, but your commitments are sincerely appreciated no less.

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.