#UofTGrad16: Convocation marshals bring sense of ceremony, flair and timing to the occasion

“We have quite a few from drama,” says Silvia Rosatone, director of Convocation, referring to graduate students at U of T’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. “They have a sense of ceremony, flair and timing.”

And it takes all three, plus a little moxie, to be a student marshal during Convocation.

“This way, cards at the ready, if you please,” Paul Babiak, a recent drama PhD in very good voice, tells a roomful of soon-to-be graduates as they file their way out of the West Hall of University College to the front campus lawn leading to Convocation Hall.

Two high-spirited students who veer away from the column on the lawn are firmly if cordially invited to get back in line.

“It’s really to emphasize the decorum of the occasion rather than for any disciplinary purpose,” Babiak, one of two head marshals, explains. “These gentlemen might find themselves out of position when the seating actually occurs.”

Formality and jubilation are by no means mutually exclusive. On this morning students started doing “the wave” while standing in their designated places in Convocation Hall. All this while University Organist John Tuttle played a rousing prelude on the mighty 1911 Con Hall organ.

“We do our best to create a really upbeat feeling, within certain bounds,” Babiak says. “We need to keep the graduates manageable and happy at the same time.”

On Monday Babiak was on late duty in the vestibule between East and West Halls of University College. Nine latecomers were scribbling phonetic versions of their names on their cards and assembling themselves according to number. One woman proved remarkably adept at running in high heels.

“It’s going to be exactly the same as if you were on time,” Babiak assured the students. “Everything’s cool.”

Whether by accident or Edwardian design, there is a row of seats near the main entry of Convocation Hall that accommodates those delayed for one reason or other.

“Some people arrive in a condition of absolute meltdown,” Babiak said. “A really good late marshal knows how to reassure them and give them back their good feeling about the ceremony.”

One such is Noam Lior, a drama PhD candidate who also earned his MA and BA at U of T.

“There are stressful moments, but it’s a really joyous occasion,” he said. “And it’s great to help out with that.”

May 31 was a big day for Lior. There was a service interruption on the Bloor subway line, resulting in some 30 latecomer casualties.

“They are understandably stressed out,” Lior recalled. “I try to be anxious so they don’t have to be.”

Latecomers are shepherded discreetly into the hall while the cards with their names are passed to the reader in time for the announcement and conferral in alphabetical order.

“We do a lot scrambling backstage to make sure the ceremony on stage runs really smoothly,” Lior says. “Nobody sees how much work went into it.”

Apart from the simple business of confirming that students have taken their proper place in line, marshals must attend to the delicate matter of adjusting hoods, which should be gently folded in the back with colours facing out.

Hanging the hood from the neck is neither proper nor comfortable. A pin is useful for securing it to a shirt or blouse, although most students will simply balance the hood on their shoulders.

All the regalia are distributed in the Croft Chapter House, where portraits of John Langton (U of T vice-chancellor from 1856 to 1860) and Daniel Wilson (president from 1880 to 1882) provide upstanding examples of a hood worn right.

Back at the main entrance of University College a very late latecomer mounts the stairs. “Are you graduating?” asks Jean, a veteran marshal. A nod is the reply. “Run quickly and meet me here.”

The moment of stress passes.

“It’s a pleasure,” Jean says of her duties. “Young people with so many opportunities ahead of them, so many things that they can do with their lives.”


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