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Seriously, you need to book Expedia before convocation eve

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If your son or daughter is graduating from university next spring, and you don’t live where they attend school, you might want to think about booking a hotel room.

OK, so even I am not that anal,

But having attended convocations in Peterborough and Victoria this month, I would recommend doing as I did, and booking hotel rooms months in advance to make sure you have a place to stay.

The night before child the younger’s convo, I was briefly in the lobby of our Peterborough hotel watching two separate families get turned away and told that there wasn’t a room to be had in the city, because of TrentU convocation and a major music festival. People were being advised to try Lindsay, about 35 kilometres away, or go all the way down to the 401 and try Oshawa almost an hour away or all the hotels just east of Toronto. And during that short time, the front desk clerk fielded two phone calls with people desperate for a room.

The situation wouldn’t have been as dire in Victoria, or any large city, but many universities are in smaller communities with a finite number of hotel rooms, let alone rooms in decent hotels.

After consultation with child the younger, I’d booked the celebratory lunch and dinner at places of her choice two months ahead, another good move.

Someone else of a similar mind booked convo dinner in Victoria months ahead, a private dining room for two families in an excellent restaurant which will get a glowing review when I get around to updating TripAdvisor.

I’d previously been to child the elder’s first convo in 2010, also at TrentU, and have covered convos over the years occasionally, mainly because the recipient of the honourary degree was expected to make a newsworthy speech.

The two convos I attended this month were significantly different, both from each other and from any I’ve been to in Winnipeg.

Trent is a pretty laid-back place — I recall one guidance counsellor referring to it as a granola campus, which that person thought was a bad thing — with a gorgeous campus bisected by the Otonabee River and overlooked by a huge drumlin left in a wilderness state. We won’t go into stories about senior students leaving blair witch stuff on the drumlin for first-years to find. Anyway, convocations are held outdoors in the quad/amphitheatre as long as the rain holds off, and the university recommends lightweight clothing, hats, and sunscreen.

Honourary degree recipient and environmental activist Wade Davis was the best convo speaker I’ve heard, in any circumstance. There was a strong indigenous presence throughout the ceremony, including four women who performed an honour song towards the end.

It was well-organized, the students moving through rapidly yet each getting his or her moment in the sun. They had gowns, but no caps. The chancellor shook hands with each, they received the diploma later.

Too bad that Tom Jackson’s term as chancellor had ended, but still a great day.

UVic holds its convocations indoors despite having a beautiful campus of its own with lots of outdoor areas available, and with much more formal, spiffier dress for the parents. The school boasts a beautiful concert hall, which has an additional area of permanent seating above and behind the stage.

What was immediately striking were the large and ornate pieces at the front of the stage, crafted by traditional coastal carvers, most significant and magnificent among them the chancellor’s chair. The effect was stunning.

A pianist and classical guitarist from the faculty of music were playing unobtrusively as the students moved through the ceremony.

But there was one quirky difference I’d never seen before.

Graduate students shook the chancellor’s hand and received their diploma, pretty standard stuff.

But when the bachelor’s and law grads took their turn, staff moved a carved and cushioned bench in front of the seated chancellor. Each student removed his or her cap — they have both caps and gowns at UVic — the student was expected to kneel or at least bend over in front of the chancellor, who removed his own cap and lightly tapped them on the noggin with it while saying in Latin that he was conferring a degree upon them. I heard much discontent later that quite a few students were both surprised and less than thrilled at being expected to kneel instead of shaking the chancellor’s hand.

One thing about both ceremonies, while the alumni societies spoke and welcomed the grads to their ranks, both had the good grace not to hit them up for money right then and there.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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