University to consolidate convocation as single annual event

As part of its commitment to gather the entire University community each year for a meaningful, shared graduation, the University of Chicago will consolidate its University-wide quarterly convocation ceremonies into a single annual event in June. The change will take effect following the December 2016 convocation.

From its inception, regular convocations at the University have served two articulated functions. As the name suggests, convocation represents a calling together of the entire University, and it is intended to provide a celebratory ceremony that recognizes educational achievement. The decision to consolidate the four annual University-wide convocations into a single event is in response to a report issued by several deans—and supported by the remainder—reflecting the view that both of these functions can be more effectively and powerfully served through a single convocation.

The deans’ recommendation, which has been discussed with the Council of the University Senate, reflects a commitment to fostering a sense of identity for each class of students, beginning at the point of matriculation and continuing through graduation and beyond.

Having a single, unified convocation ceremony each year “would make the graduation experience more meaningful for all of our students,” the deans’ report concluded. They noted that the primary convocation event in the spring provides more opportunities “to participate in graduation activities and other events that help cement bonds and friendships with fellow classmates.”

“For the College, this change will be especially meaningful, as it will help develop and enhance a lasting sense of solidarity, affinity and cohesion within class cohorts,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “The spring ceremony will continue to be an event to remember.”

For a significant number of divisions and schools, convocation ceremonies aside from the main event in June historically have involved relatively small numbers of graduates and have had very limited faculty participation. There are often fewer than five graduates participating from some units. The non-spring convocations have therefore long ceased to be realistic vehicles for bringing the University community together as a whole. Spring Convocation, on the other hand, has seen an increase in participation from students, faculty and staff alike in recent years.

Importantly, students from across the University will be able to graduate and receive a diploma at the end of the quarter in which they complete their degree requirements. They may then participate in the next University-wide convocation the following June. Moreover, students who are on track to complete their degree requirements in the summer may be permitted by their unit to participate in the June convocation ceremony that precedes the completion of their degree requirements.

“Limited participation tends to weaken the purpose of convocation,” said Daniel Diermeier, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy. “The spring ceremony, which is an especially important event for our community and well attended, will be even more impactful with this new format.”

The change will not preclude units having their own celebration for those students who complete their degree requirements during the non-spring quarters. Further, at the time of Spring Convocation, individual schools and divisions can continue their practice of holding smaller ceremonies or receptions for degree candidates to receive their diplomas.

The last quarterly convocations will be held in December 2016; annual convocation ceremonies will be held starting in June 2017. The single ceremony will further highlight important honors that are bestowed only at Spring Convocation, such as honorary degrees and awards for excellence in teaching.

The last significant change to the convocation structure came in 2009, when the University began conducting Spring Convocation as a single, campus-wide ceremony on the Main Quadrangle, instead of four separate sessions involving different units. That change was intended to renew the purpose of convocation—as an occasion to honor the entire University by assembling its different parts. The new convocation structure will help to realize that goal.

“Students have found the University-wide Spring Convocation ceremony to be an important and memorable experience,” said David Nirenberg, dean of the Division of Social Sciences. “There is powerful symbolism in concluding their course of academic studies as it began—with a unified celebration that they share with their classmates.”