May 24, 2019

Class of 2018: Are you properly pinned and gowned?

In an hour and a half of 'pure craziness,' Barb McCutcheon’s team ensures academic and platform party members are correctly dressed

The people sitting on the stage during the university’s eight convocation ceremonies always look calm, cool and colourful. That’s due, in part, to the team backstage in the robing room that makes sure every academic, official and dignitary is wearing the right robe, with the right colours, the right way.

“It’s crazy busy,” says Barb McCutcheon, who has been sorting scarlet PhDs from gold honourary doctorate robes for a couple of years as the robing room marshal. “It’s about an hour and a half of pure craziness.”  

Despite the mayhem in the little room across the hall from the Jack Simpson Gym, no one has ever left the robing room wearing the wrong outfit. “We do our best to ensure that nobody has any issues at all and that they’re pinned and gowned and ready to go when they put them into their lineup,” says McCutcheon. “But come early if you want a PhD gown, because there is limited supply!”

The robing room team of about 15 volunteers has a very efficient process to dress the 100 or so people who file through before each convocation ceremony. “It takes about two to three minutes for each person,” she says. “We find you a gown, find your hood if you have a degree, then we pin you, and we put on senate and/or board of governor scarves for those specific individuals and finally, mortarboards.”

Academic and platform party members who are dressed in the robing room include the chancellor, the president, the provost, dignitaries, deans, other academics, members of the Senate, the Board of Governors and representatives of the Graduate Students' Association and the Students’ Union. Many academic staff members have their own gowns.

The first step is to confirm who the person is, their academic credentials and therefore what robe and colours they need. Each faculty and each level of degree has its own colour. The team in the robing room is familiar with the robing requirements for each member of the procession —after all, they are part of the ceremony year after year.

Every convocation ceremony also includes granting honourary degrees and the Order of the University of Calgary to notable and sometimes famous people. McCutcheon and her team are always happy to meet the distinguished individuals who file through the robing room on their way to the stage. “Peter Mansbridge was there last year. And he was really nice, a lovely man,” she says.

When everyone is suited up and ready to start following the piper down the aisle toward the stage, McCutcheon heads back to her desk in the Office of the Registrar where she is the scheduling co-ordinator. “I watch the ceremony on the livestream and when they’re starting to end the ceremony, I go back to the robing room to un-robe everybody, clean up and get ready for the next batch of people.”

It’s a lot of work but volunteering to help out at convocation is always one of McCutcheon’s favourite times of the year on campus. “It’s a wonderful day for the students.” she says. “Convocation is a happy day.”