Thursday, 02 June 2016 08:51

A lot of effort spent organizing 2016 MHC convocation

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2015 Convocation was an enjoyable time. 2015 Convocation was an enjoyable time. File photo

Like many employees at the Medicine Hat College, Zoë Brooks-Lacasse, the well organized marketing officer for college advancement, looks forward to seeing the graduating students cross the gauntlet.

The 2016 edition of convocation was scheduled for June 3 in the college gymnasium.
It is no small feat in its organization as something as simple as getting the local bagpipers to play and colour guard to march, to ensuring all grades are in the system, gown arrangements down, guest lists chosen, sent,completed and confirmed, grad photos arranged and technical staff are ready to go:it is a lot of planning and some of it within a short timeframe.
Because grades aren’t known until late spring and with such a quick turnaround time to the actual convocation ceremonies, there is not a lot of time to lose.
However, the effort does not only lie in getting it done on time, more importantly it’s to make it as special a day for everyone involved as possible.
As Brooks-Lacasse describes it, because it is a smaller school, staff get to know the students and it becomes more of a family.
“When you seem them go through the gauntlet (an area past their deans and instructors), the instructors have gotten to know them, they know what the students have been through, they have built a relationship and to see them walk across that stage is special,” explains Brooks-Lacasse, noting the staff have a humanistic side because the class sizes are smaller and they really want the students to succeed.
Like most families, it takes a lot of work to get everyone ready for a big event such as a convocation.
With 514 certified to graduate and approximately 375 planning to attend this year’s 2016 ceremonies, Brooks-Lacasse has her work cut out for her to make sure everything is in tip-top order and ready for the big day.
In 2015, a total of 592 students graduated from certificate, diploma and applied degree programs, with 133 apprentice students who completed studies at MHC.
“We want to have the students feel special, it’s their special day,” she says.
There’s a lot of work involved for Brooks-Lacasse and all the staff.
The invitations for the platform guests and dignitaries were sent out in March.
Among those expected to give speeches (minus any last second cancellations) included Medicine Hat MLA and Speaker of the HouseBob Wanner, Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, Medicine Hat City Councillor Les Pearson, University of Lethbridge spokesman James Horsman, as well as both honorary degree  recipients Austin Curtin and Dr. Jack Snedden.
There will be awards handed out also. Brooks-Lacasse says the nomination process started at the end of April to beginning of May for student, instructor and Governor General’s Academic Medal.
She says Shelley Rennie, the records clerk at the registrar’s office is getting all of the marks entered and double checked in time so the selection committee and college board who review them can make the best choices and verifications for the academic awards.
Rennie also has to ensure the students applying for graduation have all of their fees and bills paid in order to receive their certificates.
As well, the big job of trying to get all of the gowns ordered is always an anxious time due to the fact, the students have until May 16 to make their orders. They are then shipped from Winnipeg.
“I think a lot of people think we have all the gowns here,” Brooks-Lacasse says but notes there are some around for unexpected situations.
Once all the names of the grads are verified and the those invited guests and dignitaries have confirmed, names have to be double checked for spelling  and even triple checked in order to make sure there are no mistakes.
With more than 500 names, it’s a time consuming, but critical process.
Audio, visual and internet technicians need to be organized and prepared.
 The after convocation tea has to be organized with food prepared and entertainment scheduled.
Then, the day comes. No, not convocation day — the day before.
“Our chaos starts the day before,” explains Brooks-Lacasse with a smile.
There are 20 staff members helping with a long list of tasks. Gowns come in as well as students picking up their gowns which one could imagine is quite busy. They are alphabetized A to Z but it makes things interesting.
The photographer comes in at 7 a.m. and starts the graduation photography process.
“We are also setting up chairs in the gym and decorating the gym and around the college,” says Lacasse.
There is a run through with the guests to ensure they know where to be and the schedule for the day.
That’s not to mention trying to ensure the 30 or so staff members who are helping out the day of the ceremony are prepared and organized. This includes five ushers and three greeters.
“The day of convocation, we can enjoy it because we’ve worked since October to see the fruit of our efforts.”
Those who couldn’t make it to the event could watch online from a livestream link on the college’s website (see end of the story).
Brooks-Lacasse says this is the sixth year for that service.
Besides the graduates, the gymnasium will be home to family and friends.
The request was made of graduates to keep guest numbers at four per grad. There can be 500 in the bleachers and another 600 people on the floor.
The morning ceremony will see grads from the Divisions of Arts, Education and Business and the Division of Trades and Technology. The afternoon program recognizes the graduates from the Division of Science and Health.
MHC President Denise Henning is proud of the graduates and knows many of the students.
“Students have come to that time in their educational journey and they’ve reached that milestone to make it to that next step,” explains Henning in a phone interview.
Henning says her speech was to be centred around resilience.
“We don’t know how long that this (poor economy) will go. Grads know how to be resilient and that means adaptable in this job climate.”
While it’s a tough economy, she and staff will be proud to send them off into the workforce.
“In our region and provincially, Medicine Hat College students are highly regarded,” explains Henning. “When we think of our graduates, our programs serve them well.”
For Brooks-Lacasse it will be a fitting close to their time at the Medicine Hat College.
She knows the staff will have done everything they could to make sure everything is in place.
“We want the important details to be perfect ... it’s a special day; it’s like we’re planning our own wedding. We want the atmosphere to be nice and we want them to have a lasting memory of the college.”
For more information on MHC’s graduation ceremonies, visit

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor