The first Convocation ceremony in Queen's history took place on June 2, 1847, when the Senate awarded degrees to the University's first three graduates, probably in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. It was not until 1858 that convocations got their first designated, on-campus home: in a special Convocation Hall, constructed as part of the Old Medical building. The University soon outgrew that venue: that hall was dismantled after a bigger, more splendid Convocation Hall was included in Theological Hall, opened in 1878. That hall and its name both survive; but convocations soon moved on again, this time to the yet more spacious Grant Hall, completed in 1905. And after the rapid growth of Queen's in the 1950s and 1960s, convocations moved to the Jock Harty Arena in the early 1970s, although fall ceremonies continue to be held at Grant Hall. With the dismantling of Jock Harty Arena in 2007 (to make way for the new student life and athletics facility, the Queen's Centre), Grant Hall has become the host location for spring ceremonies as well.
Convocations have always been a time for pomp and circumstance. Until the 1950s, however, they were also frequently marked by rowdy behaviour, as students were notorious for drowning out speakers with catcalls and other noise and were even known to pelt the audience with assorted vegetables. The ceremonies have become quieter in recent decades, and also much bigger. There are now more than 20 ceremonies every year, attracting more than 3,000 graduating students (more than 4,000 students qualify to graduate every year, but not all attend convocation). The main features of the convocation ceremony are a speech to the graduands by the Principal, a speech by the Honorary Graduate or guest speaker - a tradition that dates from the granting of the first honorary degree in 1858 - and the granting of degrees by the Chancellor. Traditional music includes "Flourish for the Chancellor," an organ composition written specially for Convocation by Queen's music professor Fred Clarke.
Convocations are organized by the Office of the University Registrar. The Office is responsible for the main logistical arrangements and coordinates the work of other departments involved in the ceremony, including Physical Plant Services, Information Technology Services, Marketing and Communications, CFRC Radio, Environmental Health and Safety, and Health, Counselling and Disability Services. The Registrar's Office also compiles the list of graduands and award winners, informs them of the time and place of convocation, produces diplomas, prints the convocation programs, and works with the Alma Mater Society's Hoods and Convocation Service to supply students with hoods and gowns. The Senate Academic Procedures Committee has authority for approving the list of graduands. The Senate Honorary Degrees Committee makes recommendations to the Senate for the award of honorary degrees.