Making the grade
About ten years ago, when I was President of Dublin City University, a colleague there put a proposal to the university’s Academic Council (Senate) to drop academic dress for graduations. At any rate, he wanted gowns and hoods to become optional, both for students and for staff. There was a lively debate, at the end of which the proposal was overwhelmingly defeated. DCU is a thoroughly up to date university without much respect for tradition, but this proposal found very little support. So what is about graduations – these ceremonies with anachronistic clothes, formal choreography, lots of amateur dramatics – that makes them such significant events, even today?
I ask this at the beginning of a week that will see me attend seven graduation ceremonies in Robert Gordon University (and speak at all of them). I shall see the usual mix of apparently reluctant (but in truth very proud) graduands, out to please their parents but actually really pleased themselves, those sporting really improbable footwear and jewellery, waistcoats worn with jeans, everything you can imagine. And like many ceremonies, the graduations will have a deeper significance than the external formalities might suggest. People ask about the meaning of it all, but in the end large numbers do come.
Perhaps the most significant point one can make about graduations is that they foster a sense of belonging in the academy, that includes those who have completed their formal learning but still remain part of the institution’s wider community. And, who knows, maybe the dressing up is a good way of illustrating the value of shared scholarship, even in a modern academy.higher education, university
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