Sunday, November 12, 2006

Scottish Graduation Ceremony at Jordanhill

Entry for 11 November 2006:

I thought it would be a good idea to go to the Faculty of Education’s graduation ceremony (referred to as a “congregation for the purpose of awarding degrees”) today. Lorna encouraged me to go in order to support the MSc, Certificate, and Diploma students, especially a group of deaf students who have recently completed requirements for a Certificate in Counselling (this is the introductory-level course). Plus, I had shipped my fancy cap, gown, and hood trimmed with satin (hood) and velvet (gown) in UCLA colors blue and gold, and it seemed like a good idea to make use of it.

This first thing that is very different about graduation here is when it is held: Several months after the end of the term. This allows time for projects to be graded, additional work done if needed, and for the evaluations of the students to be graduated (“graduands”) to be vetted both internally (Associate Dean: Effie) and externally (external examiner: Judy Moore from East Anglia University). This means that people really do graduate at graduations here, instead of getting a stingy, waffling piece of paper that says in convoluted legalese, “If you’ve net the requirements, you’ve graduated”.

It was wet and blustery morning as I walked up from my car. I changed in my office, just upstairs from where people were gathering, and then met up with Lorna and Mike. Finally, John Hogg, the EPS Department Administrator, lined us up. Since I am a Professor, I was put behind the Dean and Associate Dean. We marched to some vaguely pomp and circumstantial type music played on an organ. (I must admit that I missed the UT university orchestra playing Bizet’s Suite from L’Arlesienne.)

Today is Remembrance Day in Britain (Veterans Day in the US). It the custom here to mark the day with 2 minutes of silence at 11 am (that is, 1100 hours on 11-11). This was integrated into the graduation by having it mark the beginning of the ceremony on a somber note. The Principal (that is, the President) reminded us that this is the 88th anniversary of WWI’s Armistice Day, the day the guns fell silent, and led us in observing the 2 minutes of silence.

The next big difference from an American graduation was that the degrees were awarded first, before the speeches. I found this startling: The PhD graduates immediately processed up to the stage, and Iain, the Dean, started announcing degrees and reading student names. Upon hearing their name read, each student walked halfway across the stage to where the Principal was sitting (I was immediately behind him). Each student knelt or leaned down to the President, who did three things: (a) shook their hand, (b) muttered something congratulatory to them, and (c) placed and rubbed a flat, round black velvet thingy on the top of the graduate’s bare head. (I had already noticed that the graduates weren’t wearing mortarboards.) I leaned over to the professor sitting next to me, and whispered, “What is he doing?” My fellow professor whispered back, “He’s capping them, of course.” This is of course what I had suspected, but I had to have a native explain it to me.

After this ritual with the Principal, each graduate then got up and walked the rest of the way across the stage, where they were hooded by a couple of faculty. Lorna had asked me to bring my camera but she hadn’t told exactly what she wanted photos of, only that it was to do with the deaf students who were graduating. I tried taking pictures of the capping process, but mostly these ended being of the Principal’s back. Meanwhile there were two deaf signers, one on stage, for deaf family members in the audience, and the other in the back of the auditorium interpreting for the deaf graduates.

For the most part the audience was quite restrained, applauding politely for everyone. Only a couple of times was there a mild audience outburst from family and friends. Even these did not approximate the excessive display of enthusiasm that is a typical annoyance of American graduations because they typically makes it impossible to hear the next graduate’s name read. Instead, one of the deaf students triumphantly raised a fist as she marched across the stage. Five or six of the male graduates, typically sporting names like McLeod, were in traditional Scottish fancy dress, that is, kilt, sporran and leggings.

Deferring the degrees took about 45 minutes. Then, the Principal got up, poured himself a drink of water and gave a 10-min speech in which he recapped the history and future of the Jordanhill campus of the University (where we are located), touched on the importance of several key sets of graduates, including our deaf Certificate students, congratulated the graduates and told them they are always welcome here. It was a touching, heart-felt speech, similar in content but much less bombastic than the typical American graduation speech.

Then, without further ado, a piper waiting in the wings, whom I had not previously noticed, took up his great pipes and led us out in procession past the graduates, families and friends. It was a thrilling moment, another moment of arrival for me. I thought to myself, you’re really in Scotland when you get to march out of a graduation ceremony to bagpipes!

The piper led us down the winding way through the Stow Building, out and across the way to refectory, where a reception was waiting, with wine and the ubiquitous sandwiches favored at such occasions here. The rain had stopped and the sun came out for a bit. I ran into the Principal at the reception and told him that I liked his speech. I asked about the capping ritual and he said it was part of the “capping and gowning”. “Ah,” I said, “so it’s a verb rather than a noun.” I thanked him for his quick action on my New Professors Fund request; he dismissed this as an easy task readily taken care of. I told him that I was very pleased to be working with such a great group of colleagues. He said that he was pleased that I had accepted the position, and we both moved on to other things. Eventually, I found Lorna and Sheila, but the deaf students had left already, so I took pictures of various Diploma students and their families instead, including one graduate and his son, both sporting matching kilts.

I was certainly glad that I had gone to my first Scottish graduation.

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