What is college convocation? You’ve dropped your new freshman off at college and he says that he will be attending convocation. For anyone unfamiliar with college traditions this may be a strange term and you wonder what is going on. Fall convocation for new students, or for all returning students, is a common experience at many colleges and universities.
According to most dictionaries, the most technical meaning of convocation is a large formal meeting of people. The term used to refer to gatherings of bishops and other religious clerics, but now has been broadened to refer to meetings of members of a college or university to observe some sort of celebratory ceremony. Convocation is often associated with the beginnings and endings of the school year or of a student’s college career.
Some colleges include convocation along with a commencement ceremony to mark the ending of a student’s college education as well. At some schools, degrees or diplomas may be handed out at convocation. Many schools now include an opening convocation at the beginning of the school year as a ceremony to welcome new students or to welcome students back for a new year.
According to Dr. Stephen Gavozzi, Dean at Ohio State University at Mansfield, convocation is the “recognition of the scholarly circle of life” marking the entrances and exits of students into the academic life of the college. New student convocation is often the event officially welcoming students to their academic career. It is intended also to convey to students the importance of their educational work and to show the school’s commitment to support students as they pursue their education.
New student convocation serves several purposes for students in addition to welcoming them to the school. It is intended to inspire them to strive for success and to aid them in coming together as an entering class as well as to help them feel a connection to the existing academic community. It serves as a bookend to the commencement ceremony which marks the end of their college career.
Convocation may look different at each school. At many schools faculty and staff members attend and process in full regalia just as they do at graduation. At one small liberal arts school robed faculty members form two lines and applaud, welcoming new students as they process past them. Speakers may deliver inspirational messages to students. At some schools, students will be formally presented by admission staff and formally accepted by the Dean or Provost. Some schools request students to formally sign an honor code as part of their convocation experience. A few schools, such as Smith College in Northampton, MA have put a unique spin on their convocation ceremony. Smith’s ceremony is a particularly student oriented and raucous event.
Some schools welcome parent attendance at their convocation ceremony and others do not encourage parents to attend as they see the event more for the members of the academic community. If your student’s school has a new student convocation scheduled and you are not sure whether you should attend, call the admission office to ask.
Whatever form student convocation may take at your student’s school, encourage your student to attend even if attendance is not required. Convocations are often more moving and inspiring than students expect them to be. Your student will be formally accepted and welcomed to the academic community and will have an opportunity to bond with his fellow classmates as together they begin this momentous journey.