A COVID-19 Convocation

By: Carolyn Pratt

Volume 15, Issue 8, August 2020

Two of our grandsons obtained Masters degrees this spring but due to the COVID-19 pandemic there were no convocation ceremonies to mark this important achievement.  I called my daughter Tracy, in Etobicoke, ON to say I had this idea that we should somehow celebrate their achievement only to discover that she had had the same idea!  We began to plan a special event to honour Ben and Jonathan’s successful completion of their respective Masters degrees as a surprise to them. In the process, we established (tongue slightly in cheek) the Order of Kitsymenie. (Kitsymenie is the name of our island in the Admiralty Group)

No matter we have COVID-19, this was a perfect afternoon to graduate with Master's Degrees... and to receive the Order of Kitsymenie! L-R: Carolyn Pratt with grandsons, Jonathan and Benjamin Stuchbery and grandfather, Geoffrey Pratt. 

This kind of ceremony would require the appropriate academic attire.  Geoff (grandfather of the graduates) had his gown, mortarboard, and hoods from his two degrees obtain over 60 years ago from Nottingham University, UK, and McGill University, QC.  He finally understood why he had kept these items for all these years. Mike (father of the graduates) had his hood from his Masters degree graduation from the Vancouver School of Theology, BC, and Erica (Ben’s wife) managed to bring Ben’s hood, already purchased, from Montreal without him knowing.

On the afternoon of July 20 following swim time, the honorees, dressed in island attire of t-shirt, shorts and bare feet were summoned into the cottage where they were surprised to find they were being robed for a special ceremony.  Already robed in their Academic attire, Geoff and Mike proceeded to placed hoods on the two young men.   Geoff and Mike had to do a Google search to figure out how to wear the hoods. The description was not very helpful!

With the strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” streamed through a cellphone, the scholars processed outside to the deck where they were met with applause from the small gathering of four family members.

With the sun sparkling on the river,  the terns circling above, and the sound of the water lapping against the dock, the family patriarch, Geoff, gave the opening remarks. The chaplain, Mike, offered a prayer.   Geoff then bestowed the Order of Kitsymenie, Masters level, on the two young men with a tap of his cap and Carolyn, family matriarch, handed them each their scrolls with a COVID approved, hand sanitized handshake.  

Ben’s degree is a Master of Sacred Theology from McGill University in Montreal. Jonathan’s degree is a Master of Early Music with a specialty in Baroque guitar from Escola Superior de Mûsica de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.

Much to our amusement, Ben and Jonathan can now add the letters “O.K.” after their names.

A cool glass of Champagne to toast the first recipients of the Order of Kitsymenie completed the ceremony. The celebration was made complete with a beautifully decorated homemade cake by Erica. The cake also included the name of Erica’s sister, Annie, who also completed a Masters degree this spring.

NOTE: Ben’s degree is a Master of Sacred Theology from McGill University in Montreal. Jonathan’s degree is a Master of Early Music with a specialty in Baroque guitar from Escola Superior de Mûsica de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.

A Reflection on receiving the Order of Kitsymenie by Ben Stuchbery

I hadn’t a clue that this was being planned. Somehow my wife, Erica, managed to sneak my academic hood into our luggage without my noticing before we left for the island from Montreal. If there were hints dropped in casual conversation throughout the day regarding the ceremony that was to come, I certainly did not pick up on them. When my grandfather invited me up to his cottage around 5 o’clock I was still completely in the dark. I was both delighted and touched by the events that subsequently unfolded. My brother and I donned our hoods, as did my father (the chaplain of Kitsymenie) and grandfather (the island patriarch), we marched down to the dock and were subsequently inducted into the Order of Kitsymenie (O.K.). We were being honoured for having completed our respective graduate degrees.

The end of this academic year was unlike any other. I knew that there would be no in-person gathering to celebrate what I had accomplished over the course of my master's degree in Theology. When I handed in my final assignment on April 30, I remember reflecting on how anti-climactic the whole thing was. After hitting ‘send’ on the email containing my research paper, I was done.

There would be no family and friends coming to Montreal to celebrate, no waiting in line at the McGill Library to get outfitted for convocation, no crossing the stage during an agonizingly long ceremony. No receiving a diploma. Sure, none of these rituals are necessary. But the ritual that accompanies graduation serves an important purpose: it is a moment to pause and to give thanks for the learning that has occurred. It is one of those rites of passage – like marriages and funerals - which leave their imprints on our lives, marking life as something worthwhile, as something good.

What a delight it was then, to have this important moment recognized by my family. In the end, I believe convocation on an island with family is far better than convocation in a massive tent with hundreds of students!

by Carolyn Pratt and Benjamin Stuchbery

Carolyn Pratt is a  fifth-generation Thousand Islander who has spent all but two summers in  residence and can truly say she takes pride in helping to preserve the place she loves.  A nurse by profession and a volunteer by nature, many organizations in Montreal, Kingston and the Thousand Islands have  benefited from the good works and deeds of Carolyn and her husband,  Geoffrey. See May, 2013, "The Tallest Ceiling" for Carolyn's history of Half Moon Bay.
Benjamin Stuchbery is a seventh-generation Thousand Islander just graduating with a Master of Sacred Theology from McGill University in Montreal. He is also the proud father of the first of the eighth generation Kitsymenie Islander.
Kitsymenie Island in the Admiralty Islands

Posted in: Volume 15, Issue 8, August 2020, Essay, People, Places

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