More than 600 graduates from three-dozen programs at Portage College had their names scrolled across the screen of a virtual convocation ceremony on Saturday night. The ceremony was held virtually, with 275 little screens making up the gallery of student and staff attendees on desktops and handheld screens across the region.
Despite the virtual environment the students did get to turn their actual grad cap tassels.
Like last year, the COVID pandemic forced college officials to hold the event virtually — but also like last year, college officials had sent pre-arranged grad packages to each parchment recipient. The packages, mailed out to all grads, contained their ceremony certificates, some Portage keepsakes and a grad cap with their 2021 tassel.
Guy Gervais, vice-president Academic at the college would normally be on stage, moving the cap tassels of each graduate from right to left to signify their completion of studies. This year, like last, Gervais gave a virtual countdown to the grads and their families taking part in the virtual ceremony and then watched the screens as grads moved their own tassels.
Mid-way through the hour-long ceremony, there were 275 screens linked to the event.
Tribute to 215 children
Those signing in at the start, watched as Aboriginal Art Certificate graduate Kaylee Weigelt performed a livestreaming Indigenous song in honour of the 215 children linked to unmarked graves at a residential school in Kamloops, BC. The song, Remember Me, was written by Saddle Lake musician Fawn Wood in 2015. Weigelt wore a special ribbon skirt that also symbolized the lives lost and other victims of the residential school system.
"It is to help us honour all those who were lost," said Kerry Froehler Portage College's vice president of People, Planning and Public Relations. Froehler and Portage's Associate Dean Al Bertschi presided over the online event, introducing guest speakers and faculty to offer encouragement and praise for the graduating class of 2021.
Portage College President Nancy Broadbent congratulated the students on their perseverance and resiliency during another COVID-affected year of schooling. She joked that the second virtual graduation was as unexpected as the first.
"Last year we thought this is a one-time special ... but here we are again," she said, thanking the students, their families, college staff, instructors, executive members and the community for the year of support.
To the grads she said their time at Portage during unprecedented times has given them the persistence that will be a "life-long skill" to carry them forward.
As officials presented their congratulations and goodbyes, students were invited to share photos and online chats through virtual rooms, speaking to classmates and instructors.
Those connections, that reliance on others is a part of the learning environment — virtual or in-class — that helps students as they enter the workforce and move forward, said Randy Benson, the chairman of the Portage College Board of Governors. He said the power each student has shown to complete their schooling and maintain a positive outlook in their classes is commendable.
"The resilience each you you has demonstrated to stay the course of your education during these dynamic times is amazing," he told them.
At the end of the virtual ceremony, graduates were encouraged to take part in the 'cap toss' — "but watch out for your ceiling lights," joked Froehler.