Convocation and Reunion Weekend is always a highlight on campus and in Sackville — welcoming graduates back and celebrating the newest graduating Allisonians. This year was one for the books with members of three classes — 2020, 2021, and 2022 — returning to campus to cross the Convocation Hall stage and take part once again in a long-standing Mount Allison tradition.
The Record reached out to graduates from all three classes to hear about their weekend on campus and what they have been up to since finishing their degrees.
What was it like to return to campus after having to leave so abruptly in 2020?
Arianna Woodley BSc, aviation (’20): Technically I never left, even though almost all of my friends did! After completing my degree in 2020, I was able to transition into working full-time at Mount Allison as the post-graduate experiential learning intern in the Office of Experiential Learning and Career Development. I then transitioned into Admissions as the admissions counsellor — prospect management. However, after returning to campus on a 'hybrid' schedule, it was great to see students making their way back to campus, which was nostalgic of my time as a student at MtA.
Risha Minocha-McKenney, BSc biochemistry (’20): I’m going to be very honest, leading up to the event I was excited to see my friends, but I was really going so my family could see me walk across the stage. Getting to Mount A after two years, and seeing all my friends, felt like I never left. My friends and I set up a water pong game in the lounge of Campbell and people came down to join like we would have done our first two years living in residence. It was like we had never left and the environment provided by Mount A gave that amazing moment to us.
What was your self-care go-to during the pandemic?
Nigel Verrett, BA, economics (’20): In the early days, the pandemic gave me a chance to spend more time with my roommates in Sackville while finishing up my degree. For the first time, we were all stuck in one place, in contrast to the otherwise constant comings and goings with everyone running around campus all the time. I also started running to get fresh air and exercise, exploring places in Sackville I had never been to before. Moving on to a new program after Mount Allison, my self-care consisted of spending time with friends and playing the piano.
Kayla Blanchard, BA psychology (’21): Throughout the pandemic school year, I was fortunate enough to live with some of my best friends. I think under normal circumstances, it can be tricky living with roommates, even ones that feel like family. However, having the ability to shut my computer off and just sit in the living room and talk about nothing whenever I needed a break was the most valuable self-care tool I had in my arsenal. I didn’t realize just how special it was to have that until I left Sackville.
Annie Martel, BA environmental studies (‘22): During the pandemic, one of my self-care activities was beadwork. I got into beading right before the start of the pandemic and beadwork requires a lot of mindless focus, which I love. I usually listen to podcasts or put a TV show on in the background while I bead. It was really a wonderful distraction/pastime and also allowed me to practice more and work on many different projects!
Favourite part/biggest takeaway from 2022 Convocation Day/Weekend?
Bryenton Innes, BMus (‘20): My favourite part of Con Weekend was being able to celebrate with my classmates in person. Even though some health anxieties remained, I was grateful to have some close friends back in town together.
Nigel Verrett (‘20): I had kind of forgotten how much Sackville meant to me; how much I loved it. This weekend also reminded me of how meaningful the friendships I made at Mount Allison are to me.
Risha Minocha-McKenney (‘20): No matter how far you and your best friends may grow apart (which will inevitably happen), those friendships you built over four years will carry on the same way when you see them in person.
Kayla Blanchard (‘21): I think my favourite parts of the weekend were any moment I got to spend with friends, which was essentially every moment. I truly couldn’t believe just how happy everyone was to see each other and I think that’s really special. If I had to pick a moment to exemplify this, I think it would be Saturday afternoon before the carnival. The Frisbee alumni and current players got together to scrimmage on the Park Street field and a few of us went to sit in the sun and hang out and watch our friends. It was a classic Sackville moment in my mind. Just a simple hang-out, nothing overly special or super planned or anything like a party, but still pure bliss.
What do you know now that you didn’t know when you graduated?
Arianna Woodley (’20): I think I always knew this, but it didn't actually sink in, that life is extremely unpredictable. Like many of my classmates, I expected to graduate and jump right into my career as a commercial pilot. Unfortunately, COVID had other plans, and resulted in many of us temporarily venturing away from aviation. And you know what, it probably was for our benefit. Being able to work in a field that is fairly different from my ultimate goal has given me a different perspective and an appreciation for other careers. Although my timeline is now a little different for commercial aviation, I know I'll get there soon!
Angelica Whiteway, BSc biology (’21): I now know that even when times are hard, things will always get better. There were times in my grad year where I felt like I was in a dark place, but it’s important to know that hard times don’t last forever.
Kayla Blanchard (’21): I think I’ve learned a lot in my year away. More than that, I think there were lots of things I was taught while at MtA that didn’t truly make sense until I left. I’d say the biggest thing has been how important it is to keep an open mind. I think MtA was really great at showing students how to be well-rounded and open to ample opportunities... I graduated with a degree in psychology and political science and am now working on a career in business, something I never would have predicted or sought out. My experiences at MtA demonstrated that if you’re open-minded, you may find yourself on unexpected (but positive) paths!
One tip you would give future graduates for Convocation Day at Mount Allison?
Bryenton Innes (‘20): I would advise future graduates to get their sleep to be able to enjoy everything, even if that means short naps because you were out until 3 a.m.
Arianna Woodley (‘20): Wear comfortable shoes — haha! The trek to Convocation Hall is definitely something in seven-inch heels. On a more serious note, I would encourage future graduates to sit back and allow themselves to be loved and appreciated on Convocation Day — get excited for your bouquet of flowers from Blooms, or even goofy pictures with your buddies! You have accomplished so much and the fact that you made it through your degree is truly something to be proud of.
Nigel Verrett (‘20): The grad cap will leave you with a serious case of hat hair should you choose to take it off, so style your hair accordingly.
Joshua Cormier, BComm (‘22): Tie your shoes!
Lopsii Olagoke, BSc math (‘22): Convocation Day is overwhelming. I quickly figured that out when I had to take pictures with everyone I knew. For an introvert, I would recommend that you fill up your social battery and for everyone else, don't party too late the night before the ceremony. Most importantly, after the ceremony, take time to acknowledge your instructors or favorite University administrators because they too share in your accomplishment.
Kayla Blanchard (’21): I think the most important thing to remember for future Convocation Weekends is to just soak in as much as you can… For most people, it truly marks the end of a huge chapter and I think that if you can, try to leave everything else at the door, and just enjoy those moments with the people you love. Also allow yourself to feel all the pride that that day brings and take tons and tons of pictures even if you’re tired and you think your smile is broken! You’re going to regret it if you don’t.
What was it like to return to campus a year later, after a year of restrictions and uncertainty while working to complete your studies, and celebrate in person?
Angelica Whiteway (’21): It was beyond incredible to see everyone again. A silver lining to meeting again after a year of restrictions and uncertainty was that we had already done the "sad goodbye" when leaving Sackville after completing our degrees in 2021. This weekend was "happy hellos" only and it made me value spending time with people in person so much more.
How did you mark your 2021 virtual conferring of degrees?
Angelica Whiteway (‘21): I watched it online in a different province from my family, waiting on the border to open. Despite being in loving company then, I did feel very homesick that day and had wished I was with my family. It was really strange to watch our names go by on the screen and to see the recording of myself give the valedictory address, but those around me cheered loud and my friends from afar were live texting “woo hoos” in support.
What was it like being able to celebrate in person after two years of restrictions?
Joshua Cormier (’22): It was surreal! With the majority of my degree (as well as my cohort’s) being conducted online, the final weekend together with all the in-person offerings was the perfect send-off! Sharing this weekend with the Classes of 2020 and 2021 was also amazing and felt kind of like time travel to a pre-pandemic world!
Lopsii Olagoke (’22): After two years of restrictions and online graduations, it feels great to be part of the class to resume the traditions of in-person graduation ceremonies. The ability to see my friends and acquaintances watch and celebrate each other alongside their families and loved ones in person was truly amazing to behold.
Silver lining of doing more than two years of your degree in a pandemic?
Joshua Cormier (‘22): Long term, I think this prepared many university graduates for the reality of remote/flexible work. This whole experience proved to everyone that a lot of what we thought we absolutely needed to function successfully is not as necessary as we might have thought. While I can’t say that I’d be eager to work remotely in the next year or two, the lessons taught to my generation over this pandemic will equip us to maintain and demand flexibility in our work environments, which have remained all too rigid in the previous decades.
Annie Martel (‘22): Although doing two plus years of my degree in a pandemic was extremely challenging, being able to finish my last year of university mostly in-person made this last year extra-special and made me appreciate being able to connect with friends, peers, and profs.
How did you mark Convocation in Belize?
(Martel was participating in a field school focusing on Indigenous cultures in Belize with the Maple League of Universities this spring)
Annie Martel (‘22): In Belize, I was able to watch most of Convocation through the live-stream, which I was very happy about! On the day itself, I was not able to celebrate, but I did celebrate at the end of May with family and friends, so I was very excited about that.
Convocation ceremonies can be viewed at mta.ca/convocationlive and additional photos and video can be found on both University and Alumni social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram @mountallison, @mtaalumni)
Honorary degree recipients
The University welcomed 11 honorary degree recipients from the Classes of 2020 and 2021 to receive their honours in person during the ceremonies. Recipients included:
- Michael de Adder (’91) — Award-winning editorial cartoonist and political cartoonist with The Washington Post and CounterPoint
- Margaret Fancy — Librarian emerita and long-time chair of the J. E. A. Crake Foundation
- Scott McCain (’78) — Business leader, volunteer, and philanthropist
- Robert M. Ogilvie (’67) — Business leader and philanthropist
- Beth Powning — Award-winning author and community leader
- Dr. Bonnie Henry (’86) — Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia
- Pierre Lassonde — Business leader and one of Canada’s most notable patrons of the arts
- The Honourable Dominic A. LeBlanc — Long-time Member of Parliament for the riding of Beauséjour, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities
- Chief Terry Paul — Chief and CEO of Membertou First Nation, Membertou, NS
- Dr. Jennifer Russell — Chief Medical Officer of Health for New Brunswick
- Annette Verschuren (’78) — Chair and CEO of NRStor Inc and former President of Home Depot Canada
LeBlanc, Henry, and Lassonde gave Convocation addresses and Elder-in-Residence William Nevin provided an inspirational opening at all three ceremonies.
“The Class of 2022 has not only left their mark, but paved the way for Mounties to come.” — Elder-in-Residence William Nevin
“When that heartbeat stops — and it will someday — it’s not what you take with you, it’s what you left behind.” — William Nevin
“I watch in awe as young people take on the advocacy of protecting our environment and our planet. And I know that it is your generation that will lead the fight to save this planet. This existential threat needs all of us to step up and I know your generations will be the first to do so.” — Hon. Dominic LeBlanc (LLD ’21) addressing the Classes of 2020 and 2021.
LeBlanc was honoured 45 years after his father, The Honourable Romeo LeBlanc, received an honorary degree from Mount Allison on the same stage.
“What life is — it’s a random walk — you never know when or where you may meet someone or have an experience that will change your life.” — Pierre Lassonde (LLD ’21)
“The word ‘kind’ matters. Not just ‘nice’ but kind, recognizing that we are kin. When we use this word and when we are kind, we are recognizing that we do not always know another person’s story. Being kind means treating that other person with respect and care, assuming the best as everyone does their best, even when it’s hard. The word ‘calm’ also matters. It refers ... to our recognition that different people's reactions to fear and uncertainty are different. And they come from our background and our past experiences. And it can cause people to lash out in anger or be paralyzed with anxiety. Being calm is taking that moment, showing our compassion, understanding of other suffering in a crazy uncertain time. And the word ‘safe’ matters. To be safe means doing our own bit and therefore doing our collective part.” — Dr. Bonnie Henry (LLD ’21)