Josie Lalonde, Sheldon Grabke and Nalayini Balasubramaniam with the new gonfalons (photos by John Guatto)

Convocation 2014: graduation, gowns and... gonfalons?

Staff take on new role in ceremonies as standard bearers for their students

Convocation ceremonies at the University of Toronto always begin with a procession of students marching proudly from University College, along King’s College Circle, and into Convocation Hall.

It’s a long-standing tradition at U of T, but this year there’s a difference. Each procession is being by led one or more university staff members carrying gonfalons – banners hanging from poles that identify the particular faculty, college or campus participating in that day’s ceremony.

Gonfalons are used for ceremonial occasions – such as convocations – at universities around the world, according to Brenda Ichikawa, U of T’s director of university events, but they have never been part of the U of T tradition. That changed last November when they were introduced at the installation of President Meric Gertler, she said.

At that event, students carried the gonfalons – one for each Faculty and College on the St. George campus, as well as for the University of Toronto Mississauga and the University of Toronto Scarborough, and two for the University itself. But for convocation it was decided that university staff should be given the honour, Ichikawa said.

“Students and faculty have long played a significant role at convocation of course, and staff wanted an opportunity to participate as well. So we asked the deans and principals of the faculties, colleges and campuses to each nominate a staff member to carry the gonfalon for their particular ceremony,” said Ichikawa. “It’s a unique opportunity for staff to play an important role at convocation.”

(Above: Shelby Verboven, director of student recruitment at UTSC, leads the procession.)

The gonfalons were designed last year by Caz Zyvatkauskas of the university’s strategic communications and marketing department.

“Carrying a standard or banner is at once both a provocative and grounding experience. The goal was to capture an expression of pride and accomplishment that would enhance our storied ceremony. Carrying the standard in the procession is a visual and visceral evocation that connects all students, faculty and staff alike, regardless of academic discipline or rank,” Zyvaktkauskas said.

Josie Lalonde, the gonfalon carrier (known as a gonfalonier) for the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the June 13 afternoon ceremony, said she felt honoured to be chosen. “It's such a great feeling that they are including staff in the ceremony.”

Her fellow gonfaloniers concurred as they prepared for the procession, adjusting their gowns and testing the weight of the gonfalons. “I feel extremely honoured to be carrying it,” said Nalayini Balasubramaniam, registrar and student services director for the Faculty of Music.

“It was a nice surprise to be asked,” agreed Sheldon Grabke, registrar for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

For Balasubramaniam, who has been with the Faculty of Music since 1996, the opportunity to participate in convocation along with the students was particularly meaningful.

“The Faculty of Music is small, so we have a very close relationship with most of the students. There are many students I've had the opportunity to develop very special relationships with, so it just makes it extra special for me.”

The Bulletin Brief logo

Subscribe to The Bulletin Brief