“It feels like we’ve been able to come back full circle”
On an overcast morning in early June, the University of Victoria held its first convocation of the year. That morning was long-awaited by the robed graduates who gathered in the rooms of the Clearihue Building, anticipating the ceremony to come.
These convocates were some of the UVic alumni who had never walked the stage, the pandemic graduates who were finally returning to campus to be recognized in person for their achievements. While many alumni experienced the loss and confusion that came with graduating into lockdowns and restrictions, convocation day was filled with smiles and laughter.
UVic held six ceremonies from June 8–10 to honor and celebrate over 1 300 alumni before hosting the class of 2022’s graduations. More than 3 700 students collectively convocated from UVic this spring.
“We were the first round of graduates who didn’t get to convocate,” said Sage Lacerte on the morning of the first convocation, dressed in black and red UVic robes. “I was unsure about what to do as we went into lockdown and I was sad to leave my campus community.”
Lacerte graduated in spring of 2020 with a bachelor of arts in gender studies, and was recently recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award. She founded Sage Initiative in 2019, a business that trains Indigenous women in impact investment, and was the National Youth Ambassador of the Moose Hide Campaign from 2018–2021.
That morning, Lacerte was joined by her father, grandmother, sister, nieces, aunties, and friends to celebrate her degree two years after she had completed it.
“It feels like we’ve been able to come back full circle and almost enjoy it a little bit more,” she said of the 2020 graduating class.
Lacerte’s mixed sentiments were echoed by other graduates that week. Gursewak Singh, a 2021 computer science grad, expressed remorse about not having his convocation last year and said that his parents were unable to attend the ceremony from India. But, he was glad to meet up with friends who he hadn’t seen in months.
“It’s not the same thing as it could have been a year ago,” said Singh, who has been working as a software engineer since finishing at UVic. “But I’m happy to be here.”
Many students who graduated during the country-wide restrictions weren’t able to properly celebrate finishing their degrees. Yaroslava Budz, a psychology grad, started at UVic in 2011 and worked full-time throughout her degree to afford the cost of living and attending university in Victoria.
While studying, Budz went through a mental health crisis and came out as queer and a trans woman. When she graduated in the spring of 2021, after a decade of attending UVic and overcoming her mental health crisis, a graduation box to commemorate her time and efforts was all she received.
“I’m glad that it’s happening now rather than never, but I wish the pandemic had never happened,” she said in an interview.
Budz is the first person on her mother’s side of the family to graduate from university and she currently works with BeConnected as a community support worker. She hopes to become a clinical counselor in the future.
“[My family was] very proud of me,” she said. “More so for sticking to it for so long and seeing it through until the end instead of just giving up when it wasn’t easy.”
Budz also mentioned that while she lives locally, other alumni weren’t as lucky to be able to attend the delayed in-person graduation.
“A lot of people are international students at UVic or are just out of province or out of city, so they’ll have a lot of trouble traveling just for two days of ceremony … so they got the short end of the stick.”
Another pandemic graduate, Angelina Cleutinx, hadn’t been back to campus since her last day of classes and the subsequent country-wide lockdowns.
“It was nice to have a physical representation of [my] accomplishment since we just got our degrees in the mail,” said the 2020 humanities grad, adding that the pandemic delayed her plans to travel and go back to school.
“[The pandemic] was good in a lot of ways because, given the more time that I had, I reconsidered what I wanted to do and maybe I wouldn’t have been able to come to those conclusions if I hadn’t had the time.”