Top 5 pieces of convocation history and tradition

A Dal News Top 5

- May 16, 2013

It's a day of big smiles and big memories. (Nick Pearce photo)
It's a day of big smiles and big memories. (Nick Pearce photo)

Convocation is a special time of year at Dalhousie — a moment to celebrate the accomplishments of our latest grads, but also to note the long, storied history they now join. Dalhousie has had awarded degrees to more than 100,000 graduates in its nearly 200 years, many of them taking part in similar ceremonies and traditions as the Class of 2013.

This spring’s convocation ceremonies started earlier this month in Truro, and continue in Halifax from May 21-29. As the next cohort of grads prepares to join the ranks of Dal alumni, here are five insights into the ceremony that will mark their big day.

1. The word itself
Convocation is a Latin phrase, meaning “calling together.” It has been a tradition at educational institutions for centuries. At Dalhousie, it dates back to 1866, when the first Bachelor of Arts degrees were awarded.

2. The seal
The Dalhousie seal that adorns the stage is based on the heraldic achievement (commonly called a “Coat of Arms”) of the Ramsay family of Scotland. The heraldic achievement consists of five parts: shield, coronet, crest, supporters and motto. The Rt. Hon. George Ramsay founded Dalhousie in 1818. Though the Ramsay seal features a griffon (half lion, half dragon) and greyhound, the Dalhousie seal instead has two dragons supporting the eagle-adorned shield. It also includes Dal's historical motto: "Ora et Labora" ("Pray and Work").

3. The mace
Wondering about the large, wooden staff carried by University Beadle (Registrar Asa Kachan) in front of the procession? Carved out of oak and decorated with silver, the mace is a ceremonial symbol of authority and power that signals the start and end of the service. It was designed by R.I. de C.H. Saunders, a former Dalhousie anatomy professor, and was carved by former mayor of Halifax A.H. Macmillan in 1950.

4. The song
Dal’s grads walk towards their seats to the tune of the Trio section “Land of Hope and Glory” from March No. 1 from Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches, composed in 1901. To say that it’s a familiar piece would be an understatement: it's the standard processional tune at many high school and university graduation ceremonies around the world. (It was also the entrance theme for wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage.)

5. The photos
As graduates cross the stage, parents and supporters are encouraged to make their way to the front of the room and snap those all-important photos. The photography continues outside, too, with grads posing for shots with family and friends all over campus. Last year, Dalhousie’s own staff photographers took 6,489 pictures during spring convocation — and you can bet there are parents who come close to that number. (For more on capturing convocation moments, check out our feature article with tips from one of our staff photographers.)

For all background and information you need about convocation at Dalhousie, check out the convocation website.


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