Athabasca University convocation moved to Red Deer in response to northern Alberta wildfires

Students graduating from Athabasca University will make the trip to Red Deer for convocation.

The post-secondary institution’s convocation ceremonies were moved from Athabasca in response to the unpredictable and rapidly evolving wildfire situation in northern Alberta.

“It was not an easy decision to activate our contingency plan and move our convocation events to Red Deer this year, but I know it was the right one,” said Athabasca University president Neil Fassina.

Fassina said university staff’s “minds and hearts” are with people living in communities that have been evacuated or are on high alert.

“We did not want to risk bringing thousands of additional people into a region that may be called upon to support an emergency response,” he said.

“At the same time, we want to create the best convocation experience that we can for our learners. While not ideal, our decision enables us to celebrate the many accomplishments of our graduates and stand ready to support our northern neighbours,” said Fassina.

The ceremonies will take place at Westerner Park’s Exhibition Hall on Friday and Saturday.

Coincidentally, Red Deer College will have its convocation ceremonies at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday.

Kristine Williamson, Athabasca’s vice-president of university relations, said there were some concerns about having convocation away from the northern community.

“When we came (to Red Deer) we received a wonderful, warm welcome from the community,” Williamson said.

“Everyone has been so helpful in helping us bring together our biggest event of the year. Logistically, we were nervous at first, but the facility we’re in is beautiful.”

Smaller convocation-related events will be held at the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre, she added.

Between 400 and 450 students will walk across the stage during the ceremonies. With families and friends coming as well, about 1,200 people are expected to visit Westerner Park over the two-day period.

Williamson said eight graduates live in Red Deer and more than 300 live in the surrounding area.

The Athabasca Multiplex, which was the original site of the ceremonies, has the potential to serve as a hub for wildfire evacuees should the situation deteriorate.

Disability advocate Rick Hansen and Commonwealth of Learning president Asha Kanwar will be presented with honorary doctorate degrees at the ceremonies.

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