In her final grad week, Barb Davis looks back with a high degree of joy

When she exits the stage Friday, June 10 after the final Spring Convocation ceremony of 2016, Barb Davis will conclude quite an era.

On June 30, Brock University’s Registrar is taking early retirement, ending a career that began 33 years ago when the fresh-faced Brock graduate had a job keeping track of towels, basketballs and swimming passes in “The Cage,” beside the gym that now bears the name of her dad, former Athletic Director Bob Davis.

She would go on to hold various positions, from liaison officer and liaison manager in Student Recruitment to academic advising in the Psychology department. In 1996, she joined the Registrar’s Office to oversee front counter support and academic advising, successively being named to Director of Admissions, then Deputy Registrar and, in 2003, the top job.

Through it all, few assignments compare with the complexity, pageantry and emotional richness of convocation. Davis has been part of “The Show” for 20 years, and estimates she’s seen about 50,000 graduates cross the stage during 100 or more ceremonies.

Registrar Barb Davis in the gowning room preparing for Spring convocation.

Registrar Barb Davis in the gowning room preparing for Spring convocation.

That experience is what helps people stay calm when the “surprises” come along. Things like power outages, onstage marriage proposals, or the year movie star Ryan Gosling caused a major stir by turning up for his mother’s graduation.

Then there was the time several years back when an honorary degree was being conferred, and Davis glanced down to notice someone had forgotten to bring an honorary hood. As the presenter kept talking at the podium, Davis discreetly left the stage and ran to the gowning room: “Just give me a hood! Quick!”

Davis’s life as a marathon runner, including six times in Boston, paid off as she raced back to the stage, slipped the hood from under her gown and placed it on the table seconds before the moment arrived to hood the honorary. All in a day’s work.

Two of her best memories are the honorary degrees awarded to Bluma Appel in 2007 (“She was so connected to the audience, her presence filled the room and you could hear a pin drop when she spoke”) and to Ron Sexsmith in 2014 (“He’s a hometown boy and songwriting icon, he was so humble, and his family were so warm and appreciative”).

This year’s Convocation had its own special glint. On Wednesday (June 8), Davis was onstage as her daughter Hannah graduated — and beamed when Bob Davis stood up to hood his granddaughter. Bob had also hooded Barb some 30-odd years earlier.

Brock will always be a part of my life so I don’t see this as a severing or separation, just a change.

“I love convocation,” she said one morning this week in the gowning room, checking details for the day’s ceremonies and helping people find their ceremonial cloaks, before joining the procession to the stage. “I love handing out the degrees, love seeing the students’ faces.”

But she pauses when asked how she’s feeling about leaving a place that has been a huge presence for generations of her family.

“I haven’t allowed myself to think about it just yet, because June is such a busy month for us. Brock will always be a part of my life so I don’t see this as a severing or separation, just a change.

“What I will miss most are the people, all the wonderful students, staff and faculty who are part of the Brock community. But most especially I will miss the wonderful team I have had the privilege to lead in the Reg Office. They are the best.”

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