Brandon University celebrates nearly 600 graduates in Class of 2020

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Putting aside the in-person pomp and circumstance for a time, Brandon University celebrated the Class of 2020 in physically distanced fashion this year.

“Today would have been the first of our three Convocation ceremonies, and a moment of celebration for every student as they walked across the stage, shook hands, hugged, high-fived and beamed while posing for a photo with their degree, surrounded by family and friends,” said BU President David Docherty. “Instead this year, we are redirecting all of that enthusiasm and positive energy in new directions. I am so impressed with all of those who have embraced the challenge and responded with creativity.”

A total of 593 students earned degrees from Brandon University this year. That’s more than last year, and BU’s largest graduating class since 2012.

“That is a big number, and we are proud of each one of our graduates,” Docherty said. “They each have a unique story of effort and accomplishment that deserves our praise and celebration.”

All this year’s students, including graduates, have had to overcome unexpected challenges in the past couple of months, but for many the pandemic is just the latest test they’ve successfully passed. Whitney Hodgins, who graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree, is among those who have overcome a lot on the way to today’s achievement.

Now an in-demand mental health and disability speaker as well as a Future Leaders of Manitoba award winner, Hodgins recalls starting out her first year having to sit on a gravel hill to reach her neighbour’s wifi signal.

“Not the most comfortable desk!” she says.

Personal trauma at home, a sports injury that left her using a cane, and a relapse with depression and anxiety all pushed her close to dropping out more than once, but her perseverance paid off, leading her to multiple awards and a position on the Brandon University Students’ Union executive.

“If I can say anything about my degree. It’s that I fought my butt off to get it. I jumped in head-first and didn’t really think about the consequences,” she says. “But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. When I move on, these years are going to be the years I remember. All the highs, all the lows, I wouldn’t change a thing because look at who I became because of it.”

While everyone is disappointed to have to wait for a Convocation ceremony where more stories of graduate success and accomplishment can be shared, many of this year’s graduates have taking part in “grad at home” celebrations, including caps and gowns, yard signs, and cheering family.

“It was clear early on that this year would have to be different — that there would be no way to safely have the big gatherings with cheering crowds that are a highlight of Convocation in an ordinary year,” said BU Registrar Andrea McDaniel, who coordinates the annual ceremony. “While we stay safe right now and plan for hosting graduates at some point in the future, we also found some new ways to recognize and celebrate the moment.”

Today, BU also released a special video that features the name of every graduate alongside speeches and shoutouts from faculty and staff congratulating grads on their achievement.

“This is not Convocation, and it isn’t intended to be. We will host a Convocation when we can in the future,” McDaniel said. “But graduating students still have a huge accomplishment to celebrate right now, and we are so very proud. We are playfully calling it ‘Non-vocation’ because it’s new, it’s different, and it’s not yet Convocation.”

Alongside the online celebrations, which include a social media bingo filled with BU experiences, President Docherty will take to the streets tomorrow evening with his academic regalia and bagpipe to celebrate BU graduates the way he has been honouring front-line workers every Friday the past few months.

“Convocation is my personal favourite day of the year at university, and I was looking forward to piping grads into the ceremony this year. This is the next best thing,” he said. “BU grads are the nurses, teachers, artists, scientists, and local businesspeople who have kept us all going through this difficult time. It feels natural to honour them this way.”


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