On Covid-19 and Convocation Ceremony

The word convocation originates from the Latin word 'convocare,' which may mean to come together in a place for a special purpose. It is an academic assembly when a college or university celebrates her graduands, i.e., students who have completed their studies at the institution.

This assembly is held to celebrate students' success who completed their study process from the institution's scholars and honor their achievement in the institution's knowledge acquisition journey. Graduands are presented with a piece of document that specifies the graduands' qualification, known as a credential, to mark the official completion of the education process at the institution. It is also a document that signifies the granting of permission from the University onto the graduands to disseminate and practice the knowledge and skills they acquired in the institution. 

In many institutions, a convocation ceremony is a much-awaited jubilant event for most graduands. It is the time when they celebrate their achievement with their fellow university mates from whom they develop remarkable meaning in their learning trajectory. Much that they have acquired from their formal classes, learned from less formal settings and benefited from informal contacts. It is also the time to officially offer their gratitude to their professors from whom they acquire knowledge, develop skills, build abilities, and learn other tacit knowledge and desirable characteristics.

In each convocation session, a valedictorian speaks on behalf of his or her fellow graduands, registering their appreciation to their professors and honoring their parents. A usual event in a convocation is when the University's Rector or Vice Chancellor delivers his/her final advice to the graduands. The Charge by the Rector or University Vice-Chancellor contains a special message that reminds the graduands of their duties, responsibilities, or obligations that they must accomplish after they return to their community

The Convocation Ceremony is more meaningful with parents who have given their best attention to their children since they were young. This is an event when they cherish their success in educating their children, a rewarding moment for the value they place on university educational attainment. Convocation is indeed a tremendously exciting occasion for parents who are there to cherish the proud moment of their children. It marks their success in providing their children with the highest level of education. As such, the university makes the best it can to welcome its students back to the campus, this time with their parents and family for them to witness them receiving their credentials.

The assembly is conducted in a full ceremonial manner, involving the wearing of academic regalia amongst university officials, academics, and graduands. Historically, the graduands' academic robe originated from the Islamic scholarly tradition where its wearing signifies the recognition of the graduands' qualifications after receiving knowledge; and their willingness to impart knowledge to others. The Mortar Board or a thick rectangular layer used as graduands' headcover is originally a hard-headgear or songkok on which a copy of the Quran mashaf is placed. It was tied to the head of graduands who received a degree (Rashid, 2005).

For many, the Convocation Ceremony is a much-awaited rite of passage event. It continues to be a major event in the university's almanac across the globe. The Covid-19 scenario, which hit the whole world since the beginning of 2020, has thrown havoc to the teaching and learning processes, pushing most universities to conduct almost exclusively remote teaching and learning approaches. As far as convocation is concerned, the pandemic, which will remain in the foreseeable future, has caused many institutions to either alter the manner it is conducted or postpone it. Many have organized virtual convocation in 2020, while some postponed their convocation ceremony to a later date.  

Does a virtual convocation carry the same significance as an in-person convocation? For many, their instant reaction may perhaps be that a virtual convocation is as good as no convocation at all. The disappointment of not going through the traditional Convocation Ceremony with all the regalia may cloud their reasoning until one sifts through these disappointments and starts to go out of one's desires and looks at the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is currently one with Covid-19 risks hanging over everyone - a highly virulent virus that may become fatal or have long-term health effects. Physical distancing and wearing masks are puns in place to reduce the risk - the mass gathering is essentially banned. All of these will most likely not be observed should an in-person convocation be held. Regardless of all intentions to observe the standard operating procedures (SOPs), the excitement and jubilation will tend to make people forget. It is, therefore, more prudent to have virtual convocation. This is maqasid ash-shariah in action - the preservation of life takes precedent, the good of the general public is prioritized over the desires of the individuals. 

Moving forward, a carefully crafted virtual ceremony that celebrates the achievement of the graduands and the institution may be done. On the graduands' part, a limited gathering in their own enclave may also be held. In a nutshell, a new approach to an age-old tradition without losing the purpose of the convocation rite of passage could be mandated. It is also a measure of how successful the education process has been. Everyone should be able to sift through the physical pomp and regalia to go back to the reason why universities convocate their students - to wish them well on the next phase of their life, where the education they have received is expected to be applied to improve their lives, their communities, and the ummah.


Prof. Dr. Shukran Abd Rahman is Dean, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia; and an academic in the Department of Psychology at the Kulliyyah. 

Assoc. Prof Lihanna Borhan is Director, Office of Knowledge for Change and Advancement, International Islamic University Malaysia. She is also an academic in the Department of Psychology at Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences. 

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