June 7, 2018

Class of 2018: Decades of teamwork help bring convocation off without a hitch

Glynn Hunter and George Thomson know convocation inside out and backwards – and no two ceremonies are the same

Whether it’s bad traffic on Crowchild Trail that delays a dignitary, a fire at the Stadium Shopping Centre that affects air quality on campus, or having to call EMS for someone having a medical emergency in the Jack Simpson Gym, the convocation show must go on, and Glynn Hunter, above, right, and George Thomson, above, make sure it does.

Hunter, the newly retired director of international relations, is the chief marshal for convocation and Thomson, the director, real estate, leasing and land holdings, Facilities, is the deputy chief marshal. The two have volunteered to help with convocations for decades — going back to the early 1990s.

Every June and November, they work with dozens of other marshals, ushers and staff to ensure students and the academic procession file in to gym when and how they’re supposed to, and that they sit in the right place. “Mine is more a stage manager role. Whereas Glynn is looking after the students, I’m looking after the stage, the special guests, any last-minute activities,” says Thomson. “We’re dealing with thousands of students and guests and volunteers. Our jobs are to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible.”That includes dealing with “last-minute issues” like speakers showing up late or not at all because of traffic, and minor glitches like students going the wrong way. “Often George and I will be standing together on the stage and we’ll see something not quite right at the same time and cringe,” says Hunter. “It’s things we notice that probably aren’t noticeable to the audience.”

The two marshals have been working together so long they know exactly how the other will react to a hiccup in the schedule. They text each other and trust each other to make whatever correction is necessary to keep the show going. “We know there are particular touch times. It’s not like we’re always looking for each other,” says Hunter. “We always know we have each other’s back if something goes wrong. You always know he’s going to appear with what he’s supposed to do and likewise with me.”

Long before they don their black robes and hit the floor on convocation day, Hunter and Thomson attend a number of planning meetings on campus. They know convocation inside out and backwards — and no two ceremonies are ever the same. “Each one is unique and I think that keeps us engaged,” says Thomson. “We have a formula that seems to work but the formula has to change for each and every convocation depending on who the dignitaries are.”

This June will be the penultimate convocation ceremony for President Elizabeth Cannon and the last one for Chancellor Robert Thirsk. It may be “one of the last ones” for Hunter, who retired from the university in March.

Hunter and Thomson say they’re both “exhausted” after convocation week, but they really enjoy connecting with the students, academics and dignitaries. “Everyone is in a good mood,” says Hunter.

“I consider it as much my position as my paid position,” says Thomson. “I truly love the involvement.”