Education / Relationships

There’s no “U” in Convocation: Why I Hate the Graduation Proposal Trend

Another June gone, another couple hundred thousand or so graduates having crossed the stages of their Canadian academic institutions, celebrating, quite possibly, their biggest accomplishment to date; accepting their post-secondary degree/diploma. Men and women of all ages, backgrounds, and disciplines spend years working for this moment. Maybe it’s to appease their parents as a matter of course or maybe this is the defining moment of their academic career; launching them toward a career as a doctor, an academic, or a Starbucks barista (don’t worry barista friends, I too have two Arts degrees).

underemployed starbucks barista grad


Bottom line – if you bother to show up to your convocation* (*an event that can cost a graduate an upwards of a few hundred dollars in and of itself) it must mean something to you. I attended both my convocations. Why? Because even though it’s an old tradition, it’s also a symbol of all the hard work I puts into my academic career. Now don’t get me wrong – the whole thing is overwhelming, it’s boring, it’s INSANELY long, you often have to navigate your parents through a city they’re not familiar with – and you have to give the cool hood back at the end. BUT, holding that piece of paper in its frame* (*sold separately) and marching across that stage in front of friends and family made me just a little more proud of myself than I am on the average day. That moment was mine and I earned it.

Enter the too-obvious marriage proposal story that hits the Canadian newswire after the convocation circuit each June. The year I graduated with my BA, it happened at my own school. Earlier this month, a student at St. Clair College in Windsor got a marriage proposal at grad. This morning, as I read “The Best Instagram of Convocation 2014” in the University of Toronto newsletter, what was the accompanying picture? A marriage proposal. Yadda yadda, something something romance.

Sure, I get it—it’s a day of fulfillment. And what could possibly be greater than doubling down on a woman’s celebration of her own hard work, determination and independence with the REAL prize; snagging a husband!

From one tradition to another, right?

convocation proposalSo… as long as you’re already dressed up…

As my male companion stated, this woman is not necessarily having the bright lights of her career ceremoniously and pre-emptively stomped out by such a proposal; she may well be delighted—and if that’s what she wants, she is by all means welcome to it. I am a feminist after all.

But, from my cold, cynical heart, I struggle with two issues. Number one, the attention seeking, and the unspoken societal contract where we permit and encourage it. From the outside, your romantic proposal in front of a crowd of thousands can be interpreted in a number of ways. Even though you may intend a stadium-wide “AWWW”, you might actually get some asshole in the crowd like me who might interpret it as steamrolling your woman’s already-special day. Why give her individual accomplishment room to breathe when you can—sort of literally—shoulder it off the stage and make it YOUR special day? Or, maybe we feel SO badly for this dude because we think he’s been pressured by this woman into trying to think of the most elaborate, memorable proposal possible; and this is what he came up with? This is his best option? OR maybe he genuinely thought this was the most appropriate moment to tell her he’s proud of her and wanted to do it front of her 5 friends and family and 10,000+ strangers? Or? Or? See?! You have our attention, are you satisfied? No matter the answer, you’ve interrupted a collective experience of individuals to elevate yourself and your relationship above the more helpful and tangible contributions that will be made by the professional careers being embarked on that day—which is the reason you’re all there. And why? To ask arguably the most personal question you’ll maybe ever ask another human being? Right.

It’s fair that in any relationship, only the two (or more) participants know what is right for everyone involved; it’s a relationship and by most measures, it’s private. Which leads me to my second issue: relationships are private, intimate and personal, so why should a proposal be public, disruptive and impersonal? By ALL means feel free to pop the question at convocation, but do it by the duck pond, the parking lot, or maybe even that dinner you’ve offered to take your partner out for.

Celebrating the convocation proposal is re-affirming the convention that marriage is the ultimate goal in life, particularly for young women. A goal that supersedes academic and career ambitions. Celebrating it with soft-focus media coverage is all the more exasperating. People get engaged every day; this is not, nor should it be, breaking news. By covering the elaborate public proposal as though it were, we are not only submitting to one couple’s need for attention, but also collectively glossing over the much more impressive academic accomplishments of those who are there to graduate. Many of the students who crossed the stage unnoticed have contributed and/or will contribute to the advancement of healthcare, curing and preventing diseases; working toward breakthroughs in any number of important fields of study. These people study and sacrifice for years without recognition, only to be upstaged during the one moment when they could reasonably hope to be celebrated, applauded, and reflected upon as having made an impact benefitting the greater good. Instead, it becomes a spotlight for yet another generic heterosexual couple’s romantic self-importance; a showcase for nothing more than the validation of a group of strangers.

convocation proposal


There are many layers to this. But, in my opinion, the proposal at convocation is in the same realm as the proposal at someone else’s wedding, birthday, or Canada Day party – don’t do it; it’s not just YOUR day. It’s literally thousands of other people’s day too. And while you may have SO MUCH love bursting from you that you can’t hold it in, remember that your marriage – you know, that whole life long partnership you’re proposing – is just going to be between the two of you. You’re not proposing to the entire University of Toronto Med School, so why do you want to do it in front of them?

But, if for some reason, you and your partner agree that a giant show of emotion in front of thousands of people is the way to go for a proposal, may I suggest the following public venues:

  •  Toronto Maple Leafs games (home or road, preferably road)
  •  Any and all WWE events (via large format cardstock signage)
  •  Randy Travis concerts, AC/DC Cover Band concerts or concerts where you’ve never heard of the headliner, but you’re Facebook friends with the guy who plays tenor sax for the folk-rock band that’s opening that night.
  •  Twilight Movie Premiere (midnight showing only)
  •  Disney World (or equally fascist theme park)
  •  Oktoberfest (all inclusive)
  •  One of those restaurants where everyone eats in the dark
  •  Airport Departures Lounge (never arrivals. NEVER.)
  •  Tim Horton’s Drive-Thru
  •  Any regional or semi-regional amateur sporting event finals or semi-finals
  •  Wherever Bill Murray is right now

Bottom line, as with everything in life, be considerate of others. Especially if your 50% chance at eternal happiness means thousands of others are giving up a few seconds of their own to appease your attention-seeking profession of love.

One thought on “There’s no “U” in Convocation: Why I Hate the Graduation Proposal Trend

  1. Pingback: University of Waterloo Fraternity #BreakTheSilence on Campus Sexual Assaults with PSA | Elle Beaver

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