#UofTGrad16: Highlights of Convocation 2016

(photos and video by Johnny Guatto)

Sunny and 23. During the University of Toronto's three weeks of convocation this spring, that was the typical forecast.

It could also describe many of the 18,000-strong Class of 2016, including the 13,500 students who crossed the stage of Convocation Hall as friends and family applauded their years of curiosity, study, creativity and perseverance. 

“Sometimes we get these lucky breaks with the weather,” said Silvia Rosatone, director of Convocation. “It was not like this last year. But the climate inside Convocation Hall is always good.

“That forecast never fails.”

Among those graduating: Clive Davies, 79, who received his BA as a history specialist in Woodsworth College, where he started his undergraduate journey in 1977.

Davies' charm and wisdom so captivated media that the retired police officer and busy dog breeder graciously made time during convocation for interviews with CBC, the Toronto Sun, Metro and more.

“I have an enormous sense of pride that I am graduating with honours from one of the great universities of the world,” Davies said before the big day on June 10. “That is an great satisfaction to me.

“It is a destination worth all of the effort and the trials and tribulations. That will be my moment.”

Read more about Clive Davies

Preparations for spring convocation began long before the first ceremony on May 31. It took 12 weeks to ready the 13,500 parchments (diplomas) for the Class of 2016, from labelling and stuffing envelope to triple-checking that names and degrees were correct.

And for those same 12 weeks nobody was allowed to walk across the Convocation Plaza lawn, as it was readied for its time in the spotlight.

Then this happened:


But Convocation Plaza wasn't the only hot spot to see grads this year.  

On June 8 the TORONTO sign in front of City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square was lit in U of T blue and white.

And student volunteers from the Blue & Gold Committee of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering knew just what to do to make the iconic tourist attraction perfect.


“As engineering students, we aren’t strangers to hard work and short timelines, and the desire to help our community is much stronger than our worries about the difficulties of finishing a task,” said Joshua Calafato, co-chair with Ozan Coskun of the committee. 

Coskun, a mechanical engineering student, agreed to design the extra letters. While visiting family in Istanbul. Once he had the appropriate dimensions and font, Coskun sent the plans across the Atlantic, where Calafato, an engineerinng science student with a major in electrical engineering, had assembled a team of eight volunteers who were good with their hands.

“We were able to finish construction in about four hours, and painted them in an hour,” Calafato said. “All in all, we finished working just before midnight Tuesday night.”

Read more about how the engineering students put the U in U of Toronto

The storied Convocation Hall held 25 individual ceremonies over three weeks and included the awarding of:

  • 340 doctoral degrees 
  • 1,086 professional degrees (such as pharmacists, medical doctors and lawyers)
  • 2,539  master’s degrees 
  • 9,804 bachelor degrees

To make sure each grad was given due recognition, 40 volunteer readers practised saying the names in a bootcamp organized by linguistic experts and U of T's opera stage director .

Read more about the bootcamp

Many of U of T's newest alumni, their families, friends and profs shared their experiences on social media:

See highlights from week one

See highlights from week two

See highlights from week three

And while some grads have already been snapped up by employers (the prestigious architecture firm of Janet Rosenberg, for example, just hired these three landscape architects) others are continuing on with their studies.

Faculty of Arts & Science grads James Flynn, Kaleem Hawa and Jessica Phillips are headed to the University of Oxford as Rhodes Scholars. 

“I feel I’ve learned a lot from really, really good professors,” said Hawa, a double major from Trinity College in international relations and global health. “And it’s a beautiful campus in a big metropolitan centre. You get the best of both worlds.”

Read more about the Rhodes Scholars

U of T's top grad, Mihil Patel, is off to medical school. The recipient of the John Black Aird award, Patel worked academic wonders at the University of Toronto Scarborough as a neuroscience specialist but also found time to volunteer as a caregiver to patients with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases at Rouge Valley Centenary Hospital.

“Compassion can go a long way, so I tried to make sure they were as comfortable as possible, to gain their trust but also know when to pull back and let them do certain things on their own,” Patel said. “I feel that people need to feel that element of dignity, no matter how sick they are.”

Read more about Mihil Patel

Every valedictorian had a story to tell. Krishna Ruthnum, from the full-time MBA class of 2016, had an especially challenging year. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour in December, which, happily, after surgery in March, was discovered to be benign. (Read more about Rotman grads.)

“One of the outcomes was a sharper clarity about myself,” Ruthnum said of the procedure, which delayed but did not stop his studies. He turned out to be a rare case of a spring valedictorian who graduates in the fall.

photo of grads at University College

This spring also saw 10 extraordinary leaders recognized with honorary degrees: Dick Pound (June 2); Gerry Schwartz (June 3); Professor Robert Putnam (June 7); M.G. Venkatesh Mannar and Professor Cynthia Barnhart (June 8); Professor Manjul Bhargava (June 9); the Hon. James Bartleman (June 10); Piers Handling (June 13); Linda Schuyler (June 14); and Professor David Schindler (June 16)

Dick Pound, former president of the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency, gave his address with the Rio Olympics on the horizon and the Russian drug scandal in recent memory. Pound led the commission and investigation that led to the Russian allegations.

“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re preparing to do,” he offered in a good-natured address.  And: “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

Linda Schuyler, a founding producer of the successful Degrassi series of television programs, recalled her beginnings as a schoolgirl with an English accent in small-town Ontario and her recovery from a serious auto accident. The secret to success is to be open to possibilities.

 “You might not end up where you thought you will be,” she told the Con Hall crowd on June 14. “But you will end up where you were meant to be.”

Many students also had the opportunity to interact with honorary graduates outside Convocation Hall.

Manjul Bhargava, the Hamilton-born professor of mathematics at Princeton University, was the pivotal figure at a panel discussion in the Great Hall of Hart House on June 10 titled “It’s All About Math.”

All too often, being good in math is seen as “social suicide,” this winner of the 2014 Fields Medal told a sympathetic crowd. “When you meet someone and tell them what you do, they always say, ‘I was never good at math,’” he said.

The proper response to such benighted attitudes, he said, is to foster in children an appreciation of the beauty found in math. Teachers need to discard their reliance on rote learning and embrace the creativity inherent in their pupils when it comes to solving problems.

photo of Bhargava at convocation

Read more about Manjul Bhargava

Also on the panel were Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics;  Irene Sterian, a director at Celestica (and U of T engineering alumna); and Professor Luis Seco, director of U of T’s RiskLab. Professor V. Kumar Murty, chair of U of T’s department of mathematics, announced the creation of a new Centre for Applied Mathematics at the university.

“Math is already inside of us,” said Seco, who is also the president and CEO of Sigma Analysis & Management. “You just need to bring it out. When people say they’re not good at math, I say ‘How do you know?’”

Read more about the math panel

Honorary degree recipient Piers Handling – director and CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival – set aside time on Tuesday to meet students in the Cinema  Studies program at Innis College.

“Piers Handling is a figure who has done so much to shape film culture, not just locally but globally,” said film studies professor Charlie Keil, principal of Innis College. “All the students recognize the centrality of TIFF to the appreciation and study of film in this city and beyond.

“For  them to be able to ask Mr. Handling about the role of film festivals, his ideas about programming – and where he sees TIFF heading as the media landscape keeps shifting, was a true gift.”

Speakers from various faculties and colleges delivered inspirational thoughts and observations. Trinity College Provost Mayo Moran pointed out to graduands that “convocation” is the collective noun for eagles.

“Eagles are proud and independent,” she said. “They are often chosen as symbols of leadership. The idea of a convocation of eagles seems very apt.”

U of T President Meric Gertler pointed out that there are more than 18,000 graduates in the class of 2016 from 161 countries and countless communities across Ontario and Canada. “They are ready to take on the world’s biggest challenges,” he said, adding thanks to the families and friends of graduates who supported them in many ways during their studies.

“We’d also like to recognize and thank the communities of the GTA for embracing our graduates while providing them with a dynamic, diverse and friendly home during their studies at U of T,” Gertler said. 

“You’ve helped build their experiences and shape their world view. Now, they’ll have the opportunity to build up our communities and cities around the world with what they’ve learned here.”

And although today marks the final day of spring convocation, the world is already taking notice of U of T's newest grads:



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