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Universities get with it, wake up, be cool!

July 21st, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Been travelling for last week – hence few entries in this blog. Amongst a run of meetings I went to Aberystwth for my stepdaughter Arddun’s graduation ceremony. I can’t say I was looking forward to it and indeed it was every bit as boring as I expected. Don’t get me wrong – I am all in favour of celebrating achievement and Arddun worked hard for her degree and deserved her day out – well done love.

But why – oh why – do the universities make such a mess of such cermonies. We were sheparded into an overcrowded hall – with no air conditioning – where we were treated to half an hour of dirge like organ music. Then we have to stand whilst a procession of middle class, middle aged, white (mostly) men trail in wearing the most ridiculous fancy dress costumes (although I did like the silly hats – theyw oudl go down well in a German carnival).

The presentation of the honoury degrees could have been entertaining – if only because Welsh actor Mathew Rees was included (the other one was to a woman whose entire life seemed to have been devoted to serving on government committees) but the univeristy screwed it up by making them stand sheepishly silent whilst soem academic read out a leaden text of their career. Then came the student presentations. I have to say it was well managed. Aber had obviously hired a member of staff with previous experience as an air traffic controller as she signalled and led students to the stage in groups of six – accompanied front and back by an usher carryng a ceremonial stick to keep them in order or in case they lost their way back to their seats. The rector or chancellor or whoever he was made some short reading in Welsh and bowed or rather nodded his head at each student in turn. Back to seats and on with the next six. An hour and a half of this, interupted only by some Welsh harp music.

And then to the finale. A speech by the Rector (or vice chancellor or whoever he was) with wonderful words of encouragement marking the students progress from “learning to earning” (he obviously hasn’t heard of the credit crunch) and “think not what Aberystwth can do for you but what you can do for Aberystwth” – i.e. if, by some miracle, any of you lot do make any money in the future, give us some of it. Oh – and a brief history of the univeristy.

And then on for ONE (and one only) free glass of sparkling wine or orange juice and the opportunity to buy graduation tat (slang word for mechantising rubbish such as graduation teddy bears!) from a tat stall and to pay over-inflated costs for a picture of the big day.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Why not some of the excellent Welsh rock music. Lights, multi media on the big screen. A collage of university life – like it really is. Culture – todays culture – not an made up medieval ceremony. And if the rector and staff can come in fancy dress why not us. How about  dancing. Or – better still – why not run it in Second Life. Or lets have audience particpation with a back channel.

If any Univeristy out there is interested I would be happy to liven up your degree ceremony next year. For a small fee. Or perhaps for an honoury degree in event management.

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6 Responses to “Universities get with it, wake up, be cool!”

  1. Rob Spence says:

    Er… aren’t you white, male, middle-class and middle-aged? I am too, and I’m a bit fed up of reading about my ethnicity and gender as if I’d committed some terrible faux pas. Why should degree ceremonies be “cool”? They are rites, and need to be conducted with a certain solemnity- plenty of time for partying afterwards. I took part in a ceremony last week, as one of the men in fancy dress. My students enjoyed it: they felt their achievement had been suitably commemorated. I note you don’t say what your stepdaughter thought, and whether she would approve of your ideas. What you suggest is the equivalent of the trendy vicar who turns up to the service with his guitar. Whatever it is, it isn’t cool.

  2. Frances Bell says:

    At Salford , we did have Ryan Giggs this year see http://www.salford.ac.uk/news/details/745
    I missed it as I was laid up with a bad back but I gather he went down well.

  3. Funny how different countries celebrate it differently.
    In Portugal each University town has its own traditions. Although there are some similarities, in a very simplistic way, we have the blessing of the ribbons in the south part of the country ( Lisbon = http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=vJH26S54Vhk ) or the burning of the ribbons up north (P0rto = http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=qEEGhu6csVY&feature=related ; ) . Although it starts with a public mass :-S (something I could easily pass) the fact is that this celebration is “owned” by the students and they do run the show… in their own way and style (Coimbra: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=JGPzqJuIfpY&feature=related )

    What I like about it is he fact each course is assigned with a given ribbon colour/ or set of colours, which in a way gives that group an identity. One can have as many ribbons inside the folder as one wants or affords to have. Each ribbon contains a message from a close friend, family member…someone who means something to you. Once you have collected all the ribbons you attach them to the folder and close it. [Tradition says you should not open the folder until you get the first job!] You are then ready for the ceremony which takes place in the streets of your University’s town, and to which you show up all dressed up with the University’s Uniform (although it’s not mandatory ).
    Then it’s the Chaos!!! Students take over the town ( http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=QnN6vT4MTuY&feature=related ) and there is party all day and night long…not to mention the academic week which preceded this event and which “forces” the poor students not to sleep for almost an entire week … all for the academic cause of course! This swollen eyes here ( http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=CK97qbElpTs&feature=related ) for instance are the pure reflection of hard work!!

    It wouid be interested to know about how graduation ceremonies are conducted in other countries…
    I think what counts is that this day is celebrated with those who matter to us and care to be part of our achievements. Hopefully it will be a happy day and we will have loads of fun!

  4. Josie Fraser says:

    Exactly the reasons that I skipped out on my graduation ceremony. My mum was a bit disappointed but I far preferred a meaningful family celebration with a decent meal than an overpriced, fancy-dress zombie parade. The Euro versions sound a bit more fun than chucking your special hat in the air for the photo then quickly retrieving it so’s not to loose your hire deposit – the traditional English way to let loose.

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