With files from Karla Renic, News editor
Dalhousie University students will not be walking across the stage at convocation this May.
Along with many other post-secondary institutions across Canada — and elsewhere — Dal and the University of King’s College cancelled all in-person classes from March 16 onward.
In an online update on March 14, Dal confirmed in-person classes, labs and exams would not continue for the remainder of the semester. The university is taking this step, among others, due to the rise of coronavirus cases around the world. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak a pandemic on March 11. The province of Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency on March 22.
“All non-essential university events are cancelled or postponed. At this point, this is in effect until June 1 at a minimum,” reads Dal’s March 14 announcement. “This cancellation, regrettably, includes Dalhousie Convocation and King’s Encaenia ceremonies scheduled for May 2020. Students will still be awarded their degree(s)/credentials.”
The “heartbreaking” decision
The decision to cancel convocation was disappointing for students such as Kyla Cook, who is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts.
“I was absolutely devastated,” said Cook. “I called my mom in tears.”
Cook understands the university’s decision, as what’s happening in the world right now is “unprecedented.” But it still stings. University has been a tough journey for her.
“In high school, I was actually told I wouldn’t be able to get into university with my grades, so when I got accepted it was a huge deal,” explains Cook, who dealt with illnesses such as mono and strep throat during her first couple of years at Dal. “I was kind of able to claw my way out and I’m graduating with honours and everything.”
Amanda Lee, who is graduating from the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction at King’s, has been balancing school with freelancing while being a single mother for the last two years.
“There were times where my daughter would get mad at me because I was working. I had to explain to her this is temporary. I’m working towards something,” Lee recalled. She said convocation meant “a great deal” to her, because “I could have my children there and they could see what I’ve done, what I’ve achieved.”
Fortunately for Lee, her studies haven’t been overly impacted, as much of the program is remote to begin with. She is grateful to have support from her mentors in terms of accommodating deadlines.
Hope for the fall
An online petition, started by Dalhousie psychology student Jessica Raye Seidel, called for Dal to reschedule convocation when it is safe to do so.
“It was heartbreaking, in a way,” Seidel said of the cancellation. After talking to her friend about the situation, Seidel realized there must have been other students feeling the same way.
With her friend’s help, Seidel posted the petition, which got 1,500 digital signatures in the first day it was online. They also wrote a letter to Dal President Deep Saini, Provost Teri Balser and King’s Vice-President Peter O’Brien.
On March 15, the first presumptive cases of coronavirus were reported in Nova Scotia. The same day, Saini released a statement thanking the students, faculty and other staff. He also addressed the possibility that 2019/2020 graduates will have the chance to convocate in the future.
“With Public Health asking organizations to limit social gatherings, cancelling a mass celebration like convocation may seem an easy decision. Yet it weighs heavily on all of us,” read the statement.
“Rest assured that not only will we make sure all students are still awarded their degrees/credentials, but we will work to develop a plan so that students who wish to cross the convocation stage in the future can do so, potentially in the fall. Every graduate should have the ‘hurrah’ they’ve rightly earned.”
Seidel said that while she didn’t get a direct response from Saini, his statement gives her hope.
“We’re really proud of the way the class of 2020 came together and made sure they could at least have their voices heard,” she said.
As for Cook, she still has her fingers crossed for a summer convocation.
“Most of my friends won’t be able to” make it in the fall, she said. “Half the people I know who are graduating — they’re not going to be here for it.”
Although Dal has only definitively cancelled “non-essential university events” up until June 1, in-person classes will not resume on campus until the fall semester.
On March 20, King’s VP Peter O’Brien released a video statement about the cancellation of King’s Encaenia. The ceremony “is such an important transition point for us at King’s,” said O’Brien.
“We want to assure you that you will be receiving your parchment and graduating this year, but also that we’re planning to take steps to consider alternative arrangements for marking Encaenia 2020.”
Lee said she would “absolutely” attend a ceremony in the future.
“I will fly from Toronto and my kids would be there. I’m hoping it gets postponed and not cancelled. I want that moment.”