Pomp and pageantry at Place des Arts

Barbara Black

photos by image photographique internationale

The pomp and ceremony of convocation took over Place des Arts’ biggest concert hall, the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier, on Monday, as hundreds of students received their graduation diplomas.

The brass quintet played tunes like Gaudeamus Igitur, nearly 1,000 years old and still sung at some graduation ceremonies in the original Latin. The first verse goes, “Let us rejoice therefore / While we are young. / After a pleasant youth / After a troublesome old age / The earth will have us.” Another verse starts, “Long live the academy! / Long live the teachers!”

The procession is carefully orchestrated for maximum effect, and always impresses the guests. The graduating students fill about one-third of the parterre seats, and the robed faculty and staff fill the stage. The colours of the robes and hoods they wear correspond to their degrees and schools, and the printed convocation program included a page of explanation.

For the first time, there were two fall ceremonies, one for Arts and Science grads in the morning, and another that started in mid-afternoon for the graduates of the other three faculties. There are five ceremonies in June.

The Governor-General’s Gold Medal went to psychologist Elaine Waddington Lamont for her research on circadian rhythms (see story). Like the other doctoral graduates, after receiving her diploma she was seated on the stage with the faculty members to show she had joined their ranks as a scholar.

Molson advises grads to be guided by their values

Eric Molson may be the patriarch of one of Canada’s most prominent families, but he worked his way up from the shop floor, according to Frederick Lowy, who presented his friend for convocation’s only honorary doctorate. The two worked closely together when Molson was Chancellor (1993 to 2005) and Lowy was President of Concordia (1995 to 2005).

Eric Molson displays his honorary doctorate, while Chancellor David O'Brien applauds.

Molson studied chemistry at Princeton; indeed, he told the audience that his intellectual hero at the time was Dmitri Mendeleev, father of the periodic table. He went on to earn certification as a master brewer, and worked at many tasks in the Molson organization, where he is the sixth generation since the founder.

While acting as chancellor to Concordia, he also owned and then sold the Canadiens’ hockey team, built the Molson (now Bell) Centre, and engineered the merger of Molson’s with the U.S. beer giant Coors to form one of the world’s largest breweries.

The Molson Foundation has been very generous to the university. Dr. Lowy paid credit to Eric Molson’s dignity, consideration for others, and steady commitment to his community.

Molson spoke to the graduating students about the importance of values, saying, “To be good at what you do, you have to know yourself.” This happens over time, but the process of defining your values will “keep you focused and help you make decisions.”

The Faculty of Commerce and Administration was renamed the John Molson School of Business in 2000, when the Molson family gave it $10 million; earlier this month, when government funding for the construction of the new JMSB building was announced, they pledged another $10 million. The $118-million building is expected to be ready by Sept. 2009.

Valedictorian Mark Cleveland called himself “a Concordia lifer.” He got all three of his degrees from the university and has been teaching marketing for four years while he completed his PhD.

He recalled the day 16 years ago when he got a letter from the university saying he had to indicate his acceptance by a specific time, and realized to his horror that the deadline was only hours away. “It was the beginning of a great journey.”

He credited an economic downturn with sending him into graduate studies instead of the workplace. “If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have met my wife — we even got married at Concordia, in the Loyola Chapel — and I wouldn’t be a university professor, a tremendously fulfilling career.”

The Arts and Science valedictorian, Moses Geepu Nah Tiepah, told his fellow graduates to remember where they were from, and use their education to contribute to global justice and peace. He raised a laugh with some advice for students who, like him, are in their mature years: “Don’t allow these young people to frighten you!”