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Faculty of Environment recent alumnus, Tracy Lissner, and her grandfather.

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Convocation Interrupted - Faculty of Environment student pens first-person account of convocation dreams

June 15, 2020
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By Tracy Lissner, Bachelor of Environment, geography major

In all honesty, as I read about the cancellation of this year’s convocation ceremony due to COVID-19—my graduation ceremony—I’m in tears. Absurd, you may think, and maybe so. Yet six years of school have all been building to the apex of one distinguished moment on the graduation stage—a moment of pride in attaining a goal, a celebration for more than just those graduating.

For me, it was a dream I hadn’t dreamt alone. It hails from three generations back, and as the first in my family line to have the privilege to earn a full degree it’s not just a personal achievement. There’s much more to the story.

My grandfather, a gentle and kind man, aspired to a university education his entire life, but he was denied the chance time and time again. He grew up poor, born ‘a bastard out of wedlock,’ raised by a single mother and disowned by family. In his youth the family he stayed with generously offered to pay for university if they could legally adopt him. His mother, likely out of her own fears, refused.

Between the stigma of his low social status, and the depression and war, the world conspired to keep him among the lower working class, as there were more pressing matters than school. After getting married and starting a family, he put his dream on hold again, settling for a short-term electronics education that landed him a job at the Boeing assembly line in Vancouver. Respectable, but still, not his dream.

His son, my father, attended a local community college, earning a two-year nursing degree. A significant step up in education and a point of pride for both my father and grandfather. A step I have been diligently working to add to.

When he passed, after finding his old pictures and films, I realized how important education was to him. He had the habit of visiting university campuses like a tourist would attractions. He filmed as he walked amongst the buildings and under the AQ with the mountains in the background. His smile said it all. He was meant to be there, but was born at the wrong time.

Now, after years of diligent, mind-bending coursework, just one thing is left, a short walk across a short stage on the very ground I shared with my grandfather.

Convocation isn’t just for the graduating students, it’s for everyone in their lives who dreamed of a better future, who paved the way or shared in their experience. For my sister who endured my frustrations, study sessions and late-night panic attacks when my computer crashed before a paper was due. For my dad who fought off several heart attacks and wants to see a family member graduate from that progressive next step.

I understand why convocation must be cancelled. There are no debates—a pandemic is a serious life-threatening issue. I’m not promoting any kind of demotion of its seriousness. This is one of the first times in history the world has come together for a global emergency that doesn’t require ammunition. This is not the time to get petty about the lack of ceremony.

It’s simply disappointing. A once-in-a-century lottery chance that out of all the graduations in the world, the virus had to walk in and cancel mine.

SFU generously offered to let the spring 2020 class crash the next convocation. A kind compromise for sure. But it isn’t the same is it? Who wants to horn in on someone else's celebration? To be the outsider, like some kind of drive-by alumnus pushing through to get their two minutes of acknowledgment. Instead of a celebration just for us, we get to be the Ghost of Christmas Past come to claim another’s festivities.

If there is one thing to learn from my grandfather’s ‘never give up’ ambition, it’s don’t let setbacks get to you. And this barely qualifies as a set-back. We may be the class that finished our education in home isolation, but we may be remembered for just that. The class of spring 2020, the class that gave COVID-19 the finger from quarantine—and still walked the stage at the next convocation. I think my grandfather would approve.