June 15 was a day of many firsts at Niagara College – the first day of its first-ever Virtual Convocation ceremonies, to celebrate its first class of graduates who completed their studies remotely at a time in history like no other. But for 1,270 students who marked the special milestone from their homes, it was the first day of the rest of their lives.
While they may not have been able to gather in person, the Niagara College community joined together online and in droves, from Niagara and around the world, to celebrate its graduating class of 2020. The College kicked off Day One of Virtual Convocation with more than 10,000 viewers from more than 25 countries around the world, who watched the livestream from the College website and via social media – for the morning ceremony alone.
The morning ceremony honoured 696 new graduates from the School of Business and Management, while the afternoon ceremony celebrated 574 graduates from the School of Hospitality, Tourism and Sport, and School of Business and Management.
The ceremonies acknowledged that the new graduates not only faced the challenge of completing their studies remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, but are embarking on the next chapter of their lives in a changed world.
College president Sean Kennedy called convocation a “snapshot in time.” He encouraged the new graduates to embrace lifelong learning and understand that experience can be the best teacher.
“Don’t be afraid to confront yourself and your beliefs, and be willing to change. The Black Lives Matter movement asks exactly this of each of us, to pause and examine ourselves and our social systems, to stand in solidarity against racism and injustice, and to be spurred to action to make real change,” said Kennedy. “We must grow and push society forward; that is the essence of lifelong learning – both individually and collectively.”
Kennedy also encouraged the Class of 2020 to embrace as opportunities for growth.
“There is one thing we’ve all learned over the past few months: it’s the importance of being nimble, flexible and resilient. Know that you will encounter many challenges over the course of your life,” he said. “Unexpected hurdles will appear – some big, some small – and it will be up to you to adapt and to succeed in the face of adversity. Stay positive and remember to keep a sense of humour.”
Six-time Olympian and mental health advocate Clara Hughes, the special guest speaker for NC’s Spring Convocation Ceremonies, addressed graduates by video from Canmore, Alberta. Hughes noted that while she went to the University of Calgary for 10 years, her time was spent training to earn Olympic hardware, rather than an academic credential.
“To say that I’m humbled to receive this honorary diploma in Health Studies from Niagara College is an understatement and I thank you,” she said.
As part of the formal program livestreamed from the Welland Campus, the ceremonies featured name call-outs for each individual graduate. It also incorporated numerous well-wishes from across the College community – from NC faculty, staff and administrators; the College’s Board of Governors chair John Scott; College Student Administrative Council president Tom Price; and several members of its alumni community.
Video messages also addressed graduates from well beyond the College – including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano, and Niagara regional chair Jim Bradley.
Social media provided an interactive and immersive experience like never before. The College hosted Zoom parties for separate program areas simultaneously during the ceremonies to connect the new graduates with their classmates and faculty.
Graduates also appeared onscreen as the broadcast intermittently featured live captures from the Zoom parties – waving and cheering, holding up signs, or together with their families as they marked their special milestone from their homes.
Known as the highlight of the academic year, convocation celebrated student achievement. The School of Business Management honoured Business- Accounting graduate Guiseppina Marino with a Dean’s Award. The 38-year-old enrolled at NC to pursue her dreams of becoming an accountant after 15 years of experience in the catering industry in Italy.
Marino noted that she was grateful for being able to complete her studies remotely during COVID-19 and for the opportunity to attend virtual convocation.
“I feel excited … my family has the opportunity to watch it from the safety of their home in Italy,” said Marino, who currently lives in St. Catharines. “I feel really grateful and lucky for how it went, and satisfied about graduating at this unprecedented time in history. College and students have demonstrated that wanting is power, and that with everyone’s effort, nothing is impossible!”
Sport Management graduate Wesley Abraham – who was named the Dean’s Award from the School of Hospitality and Tourism at the afternoon ceremony – noted that his pursuit of a career in sport business is now put on hold due to COVID-19. However, he valued the hands-on experience he gained at the College – including an internship working with the Welland Jackfish baseball organization for the 2019 season.
“I do feel that my time and diploma from Niagara College has given me a stable foundation with which to pursue my ultimate goal,” said Abraham, who is originally from Mississauga and currently resides in St. Catharines.
Day One of NC’s Spring Convocation Ceremonies also marked the first graduating cohort of the College’s Honours Bachelor of Business Administration – Human Resources program.
More than 5,000 students will graduate from Niagara College during its Virtual Spring Convocation Ceremonies, which will continue twice a day – at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. – up to and including June 19.
Visit the College’s Virtual Convocation site to view the schedule or to access the livestream ceremonies niagaracollege.ca/virtualconvocation/.
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit niagaracollege.ca.