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Convocation: 30 years later

Hayden Thomas and Trudy Sopp with U of T Chancellor David Peterson (photo by Lisa Sakulensky)

It was the mid-1970s and Trudy Sopp and Hayden Thomas, then  California residents, got word that they had been accepted into U of T’s combined Masters/PhD program in Social Work at OISE.  Elated, they accepted and came to U of T in 1975.

Fast-forward three years and Sopp and Thomas, having finished the residency requirements for their degrees, found themselves with expired student visas. They returned to California to write their dissertations and didn’t come back for convocation.

“It was on our bucket list to be part of the graduation ceremonies here at U of T,” said Sopp. “It’s been 30 years for me and 25 years for Hayden.”

It was President David Naylor who first responded to that bucket list wish to come back to U of T for convocation ceremonies. 

“We happened to be here two summers ago for Spring Reunion and we stopped in on graduate studies and asked, ‘Do you ever allow alumni to come back and participate in graduation?’ They told us no one has really asked that,” said Sopp.   “So I got home and sent a letter to the president, who responded and forwarded the request to graduate studies.”

Sopp graduated with her PhD from OISE in 1982; Thomas, who also holds a PhD from OISE, in 1987. Sopp says that at the time, they weren’t very interested in ceremonies and simply skipped convocation. Today they both wish they had taken part.

“We brought our daughters, who are both in graduate school, to the campus two years ago to show them around," said Sopp."We started to realize the things we didn’t do while were here. We also realized that there were so many things we didn’t appreciate: the grandeur, the history and tradition of the campus.”

The Department of Alumni Relations helped Thomas and Sopp to convocate with the current class and coordinated everything from their hooded gowns to the ceremony inside Convocation Hall. The couple was also invited to take part in all the pre- and post-ceremony activities.

They now live in San Diego, where Thomas teaches at a private school for special needs students and Sopp works in the public sector. They say they both have fond memories of their time here as students.

“We lived on Prince Arthur Avenue, when the rent was $130 a month,” chuckles Sopp.

“You could run from there to OISE in a T-shirt in the snow and you’d be just fine,” laughs Thomas. “It was an exciting time at U of T; lots of opportunities were given to students.”

Coming here for convocation has made him appreciate those opportunities even more.

“There is much to be critical of in education. Every day I employ that perspective with non-traditional learners. So I don’t hold back,” said Thomas.  “But having said that, what you ask after thirty years is 'what would our society be without an institution like U of T?' and I can’t even imagine it.

"When you look back at the opportunities you had, you think, ‘have you taken advantage of the opportunities: do you recognize what they were?’  You can see them more clearly, 30 years later.  I don’t walk in ceremonies just as a ritual; I didn’t grow up that way. But I will be proud to walk in this one, and there will be a reason for it and it will be personal.”