Graduation: no room for family, lots of room for improvement

I didn’t take my high school graduation as seriously as my classmates did. It didn’t feel like “the end of an era,” and I didn’t cry when I received my diploma. It was just a day like any other, except I had to wear a particularly ugly hat. But as I prepare to graduate from Ryerson, the feeling is entirely different.

I’ve taken my grad photos, paid my $40 graduation fee, applied for my minor and started my final semester at school with a swirling mixture of excitement and dread. And I know that when I cross the stage at the Ryerson Theatre, sweating gracelessly under a polyester cap and gown, it will feel like an achievement. It will be proof that the late nights spent frantically writing and editing, the multiple part-time jobs, the stress that at times overwhelmed and the rare crying jags weren’t for nothing. When I have my degree in my hand, I’ll know I earned it.

Which is why it is frustrating that only two members of my family will be in the audience.

I didn’t know until recently that Ryerson’s convocation ceremonies have a guest limit for all graduating students. The theatre’s 1,237-seat capacity means there simply isn’t enough space for more than two family members or friends per graduate. The university doesn’t have a waiting list in case extra tickets come up, so students who want to bring more than two guests have to buy from friends or make the uncomfortable choice about which family members get to come to convocation.

To be fair to Ryerson, if a student specifically requests them, the university will make two tickets available for the closed-circuit TV viewing of the ceremony, held in the POD building, so the situation isn’t as tragic as it appears. Yet it’s not the same experience, and for students with large families, like mine, it isn’t a perfect solution. I have six family members who expect to see me graduate. Hypothetically, only four of them will.

For all the work I put into my classes, my family contributed too, and their efforts are almost impossible to quantify. They helped with practical things like food, rent and school expenses, and with things less tangible, like much-needed moral support. They gave me pep talks, read and edited drafts of my articles, paid for my growing Starbucks addiction, and gave me reality checks when I desperately needed them. They deserve to see what their collective efforts helped to produce.

A few weeks ago, my colleague and I spoke to Ryerson’s president Sheldon Levy about the graduation seating issue. It’s a problem that he says he’s aware of, and at first the plan was to migrate convocation ceremonies to the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Presumably, they would take place in the hockey arena, which has more than double the seat capacity of the theatre. But issues like the non-accessible College Street subway station and Mattamy’s entrance stairs being too steep for older guests have prevented the switch.

“I thought it was going to be easy,” Levy said, “but it turns out (that there are) more complexities.” He added that he’s “not so sure that we can’t find a way to overcome” the issues.

It’s reassuring to know that there’s a solution in the works for future graduates who are in the same boat as I am — which, very likely, is most of them. I will, however, always be a little resentful that some of my family won’t get to watch me walk across the stage in my graduate getup, teetering in my for-the-occasion heels.


This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on February 12, 2014.

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