Convocation ceremony discontinued this year


President of Union of Students, Samuel Erickson, and Vice President Johanna Richter close the convocation ceremony inside the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the 2016 Convocation. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

This year fewer incoming freshmen will be Googling the definition of convocation as the annual Convocation ceremony has been “strategically paused.”

Over the past nine years, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Bruce Schultz said he saw decreasing numbers of students attending the ceremony. This January, members of the Chancellor’s cabinet made the decision to “pause” or discontinue the ceremony for the start of the 2017-18 academic year.

“Every year we had fewer and fewer students attending, and it’s always been focused on first-year students, freshman,” Schultz said. “I think these last few years we had less than 10 percent of our freshman class actually attending, despite our best efforts to make sure we were inviting the students and making them aware of the wonderful opportunity and so forth. There just seemed to be a disconnect between students’ interest, new students’ interest and a big name speaker which the faculty or the administration thought would be of interest to students, and students were not having that same interest.”

Megan Olson, vice chancellor of University Advancement, said last year’s Convocation with Olympian Kikkan Randall as the keynote speaker failed to draw in students.

“There’s no question [conversations about Convocation] started earlier in the fall as we debriefed about the success of, you know, the August events in 2016, and said, okay, for Kikkan Randall, we had the Wendy Williamson as a venue, there were about 250 people who turned out and significantly less than half of those were students,” Olson said.

Last year Convocation began before Campus Kick Off. After the ceremony ended students or community members would then filter through the outdoor fair. Olson said Convocation, with its small attendance, was just a distraction from the well-attended Campus Kick Off.

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“When we look at Campus Kick Off, that enjoys around 2,000 students in attendance, the distraction from that didn’t make much sense in the current formula for Convocation, which is actually a lofty term for what it was, which was really an extension of Campus Kick off and that welcoming of students to campus,” Olson said.

Interim Director for Student Life and Leadership Zac Clark helps lead the subcommittees that plan Campus Kick Off. He said Convocation and Campus Kick Off have different approaches to welcoming students.

“I think they’ve always done their own welcoming in two different styles: whereas Convocation is a little bit more of a formal welcome with a keynote speaker, the outdoor fair portion of Kick Off is more informal, an opportunity for students to connect with students, see all the different areas that a student can get involved with or participate with,” Clark said. “Similar but sort of distinctly different.”

Clark said Kick Off has been running successfully for so many years that he expects another good Campus Kick Off, but not having the captive audience of Convocation is unfortunate.

“The great thing about [Convocation] was once the event was over they would sort of filter back through the area of Kick Off and then they’d go to these socials with faculty,” Clark said. “Losing that is unfortunate but we are just working hard to try and connect with them to where we can to let them know about this event.”

Schultz said there is a larger vision for Convocation in the future but the decision was made to discontinue this year’s celebration so that planning can be more strategic in the future. Schultz also said limited resources and reduced staffing contributed to the decision to prioritize “other things that were equally important.”