King of Congregation prepares to pass torch

by Charles Ker
Staff writer

Hungry for extra tickets to their graduation ceremony, students lined up for almost two hours outside the Ceremonies and Events Office before the doors opened at 8:30 a.m.

"Good morning dear," Joan King says to the first in line. "How can I help you?"

Unbeknownst to the tired ticketholder he is not only the first in line, he is also the first student to receive an extra ticket to Congregation, ever. And to receive it from Joan King -- the principal conductor of UBC Congregations past -- makes it all the more special.

"Joan is Congregation," says Dr. Charles Slonecker, director of University Relations. "She has been the glue which holds this event together."

King has wrung order out of Congregation chaos since 1969. For 28 years she has dispensed help with thoughtful efficiency to seven presidents, nine chancellors and roughly 100,000 students -- two thirds of all UBC grads to date. This will be her last Spring Congregation -- King retires later this year.

"At times I think about it and get nostalgic," King confides. "Each chancellor and president has brought their own special style so the job is ever changing and never boring."

This year marks perhaps the most profound change to students' annual rite of passage.

Congregation ceremonies have been held in the War Memorial Gym since the spring of 1965. The move into the Chan Centre has meant monumental change in plans for Congregation. Organizing, stuffing and handing out close to 4,000 Congregation ticket envelopes is the tip of the iceberg.

Last year, King and her colleagues orchestrated arrangements for eight graduation ceremonies over four days. This year there are 23 ceremonies spanning six days. Processions for each ceremony gather in the Graduate Student Centre, not the Student Union Building, and each ceremony is followed by a general reception on the adjacent Flagpole Plaza.

King has downloaded 28 years of Congregation knowledge to Melissa Picher, who has taken over much of the logistics involving caterers, cleaners, gardeners, parking attendants, procession marshals and university administrators.

King still oversees formal daily luncheons for 60 (complete with handwritten calligraphy place cards done by King) hosted by the chancellor for the day's honorary degree recipients. She also coordinates three formal receptions of 100 guests each at Norman Mackenzie House during Congregation.

"What keeps our head above water here is the number of years the office has been doing this and the experience we have gained collectively," says King.

King's colleagues know they'll all be kicking a bit harder to stay afloat next spring after King sets sail.

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