Logistical legerdemain

April 01, 2004, vol. 29, no. 7
By Diane Luckow

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Marilyn Pankratz will be starting the home stretch, at 5 a.m. on April 20, on more than a year of preparations for SFU's special honorary degree convocation.

The ceremony will honour four world leaders committed to peace - the Dalai Lama, Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, human rights activist Shirin Ebadi and former Czechoslovakian president Vaclav Havel.

The four will receive their degrees in a special morning ceremony on April 20 at the newly refurbished Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver.

The logistics to pull off such an event are surprising, involving dozens of SFU staff and faculty over the past months, as well as outside committees and organizations that include the Tibetan Cultural Society, Buddhist groups, the Dalai Lama's New York office, the RCMP, the Vancouver police, Christ Church Cathedral and UBC, where the four leaders will participate in a round table event after the convocation ceremony.

For Pankratz, SFU's director of ceremonies and events, one of the most difficult issues was determining a fair way to decide who among faculty, staff, students and alumni could attend this historic event. Byron Henry in student services resolved the dilemma by creating an online ticket lottery that attracted 1,200 entries for 100 available tickets.

Organizing the technical requirements for televising and archiving the event fell to the learning and instructional development centre where media developer Michael Pede has been experimenting with leading-edge software that will enable real-time, DVD-quality video transmission over the internet from Christ Church cathedral to audiences at all SFU campuses and to the Morris Wosk centre for dialogue.

“With four internationally known individuals, there are some interesting protocol issues,” notes Pankratz. She must determine, for example, who will wear the SFU regalia and who requires interpreters; organize special security and coordinate transportation and schedules for degree recipients as well as SFU dignitaries.

Unlike most convocation ceremonies, Pankratz has been inundated with volunteers offering to seat guests, act as marshalls in the convocation procession or help dignitaries don robes. “I usually have to beat the bushes for volunteers at convocation,” she notes wryly.

By 5 a.m. on April 20, Pankratz will be at Christ Church cathedral to ensure that the morning's events run smoothly. Her day won't end until after a special dinner honouring the dignitaries.

“In my 30-plus year career at SFU, this is by far the most complicated event I have organized - and perhaps the most exciting,” she says. “If only I could claim overtime for those hours during the night when my brain won't shut off.”

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