WENDY ELLIOTT: Making memories with a walk across the stage

Wendy Elliott
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Nostalgia is built into convocation exercises at Acadia University: the excitement, the robes, the history.

The ceremonies offer a ripe opportunity to ponder life’s passages and, for those of us who are alumni, to think about the contrast between then and now.  (Take note: short, short skirts are back in fashion.)

At the May 11 ceremony, the first of the three sets of graduations, Acadia’s president Ray Ivany began his excellent remarks by mentioning the 175th anniversary of the founding of the school, which seems like a very long time ago. It was a good day in 1838 when Baptist leaders met near Wolfville and decided to open a college that was free from religious affiliation.

I can’t sit in University Hall without my eye drifting to the plaque on the west wall, which commemorates the women who walked from Nictaux to promote further education. We don’t hear enough about them in the official histories.

My family history with Acadia is five generations long now that son Alan is a graduate. My great-grandfather didn’t finish his degree because he was needed on the family farm, but he always valued what he would have called “higher learning.” That belief has been passed down.

Although I only walked across the stage once, I did get to pick up both of my degrees. It was at one of the now discontinued fall convocations and we lined up outside the library. Today, graduates walk up the drive, now labeled Perkin Way, accompanied by the stirring marching music of bagpipes. Everyone hopes for a fine couple of days for the stroll.

I’ve heard a fair number of speeches over the years, some more preachy than others. One of the best addresses was delivered by renowned tenor Ben Heppner, who advised the graduates to find their passion, back it up with substance and show integrity. Painter Robert Bateman’s recent suggestion to breathe three times and think about pine needles was pretty wise, too.

I’ve heard a fair number of speeches over the years, some more preachy than others. One of the best addresses was delivered by renowned tenor Ben Heppner, who advised the graduates to find their passion, back it up with substance and show integrity.

The degree granting I remember best visually was the year actor Shirley MacLaine got to sit in the front row. MacLaine seemed to wait for a quiet moment and then let her robes fall open and crossed her attractive legs. The eyes of every man in the hall were glued on her.

This year, I found myself pondering many of the names listed in the program. I wondered how the young Russian from St. Petersburg ever got here. Many were hardly unusual, but knowing the back story on others was enlightening. For example, two local young women, who were brought up by single mothers in strained financial circumstances, seemed to me to deserve extra kudos. One got her education degree and the other picked up a university medal

I was happy to see that Emily Duffett of Kentville, who attended classes in a wheelchair, had completed a graduate degree. Getting to lectures on Acadia’s hilly campus alone is no easy feat in a wheelchair.

The fact that Jaret Smith of Coldbrook, who survived a serious car accident, not only graduated, but was listed as a university scholar for his academic achievements made me want to cheer. When the father of a student who died back in April got up to receive his son’s degree, many eyes got misty.

Even casual observers can feel parental chests bursting with pride on convocation day.

Several friends who are professors participated in their last graduation exercises this spring.  Another bit of history made.

 

Organizations: Acadia University, University Hall

Geographic location: Wolfville, St. Petersburg

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