Friday, June 25, 2004

Graduation day (Part I)

I am now a graduate of Cambridge University. Wow, that is an odd sentence to write, though for “odd” value it pales in comparison to the day itself.

You graduate not by course, but by college. An “admission to degrees” day is one of a college’s flag-days, so you get to come into college seeing the old heraldry a flutter. Indeed, you’ll see a number of colleges flying their colours, as ceremonies run through back to back.

The ceremony begins with a procession from your college to the Senate House (a short walk in our case). You have to march up in graduation order, so in our case it was proceeded by much milling about aimlessly in Front Court, complaining about the cold and the wind and desperately hoping the rain would hold off.

“It’s all fine,” I muttered, “so long as there isn’t a lightning strike.”

Eventually porters and the charmingly dishevelled Praelector (a Classics don with a rumpled blue suit, black gown and mortarboard) lined us up in rows of four in the correct order (by degree, then alphabetically). Being a “law college”, the LLMs were first. I was in the front row, second from the right.

We were given the briefest of pep talks on the ceremony, and then we were off – marching up Senate House passage, the Praelector waving tourists and town citizens out of the way.

As we turned the corner to the formal entrance to the Senate, university constables in tailcoats and top hats pulled back the heavy iron-railing gates to let us pass. Inside the seats were filling up with relatives and guests. We were held in our little rows of four to wait.

I felt strangely elated. The guy to my right, was going first, was nervous about getting the procedure wrong.

“Look at us in the front row,” I said, “not a UK national among us.”

We were a Swiss, an Aussie and two French-Canadians.

“Not much better in the row behind,” he answered.

There was a sudden silence as a man and woman with tall, elaborate silver maces entered, followed by the college Master in a huge woollen scarlet PhD robe and hat (the Santa suit, I’ve heard it called). As he passed the representatives of the university, they doffed their mortar boards.

The Master took up a position on the low stage.

Before anyone spoke, they doffed their mortarboards. After a commencing passage in Latin, everyone was reminded (in English) to switch off mobile phones and not to take photos.

The Master was enthroned (in a small, fairly comfy looking chair) with a cushion in front of him. More hat doffing and Latin.

“Trinity Hall!”

The Praelector gestured for us to follow him, and we first four strode lockstep over black and white tiles. Halt, his hand gestured.

He spread the fingers of his right hand. Each of us took one. He introduced us to the Master - in Latin - as persons of learning and (more dubiously) virtue. Our names were then called. (Thankfully, in English).

On being called, you walked forward, knelt before the Master, assumed an attitude of prayer, and looked him in the eye. The Master clasped your hands in his, pronounced Latin over you and removed his hands. You stood, bowed, took a step back, and proceeded out a side door where someone put a degree certificate into your hand, clad in a little plastic sleeve.

On the steps out into the Passage, the college tutors were meant to assemble to congratulate graduates. We were out so fast the law tutors hadn’t yet arrived, though some tutors were in place.

We milled about on the senate lawns, ordered photos, got degrees on-the-spot framed and remembered to return our fetching salmon-pink rental hoods. We were Cambridge graduates.

Time for drinks and dinner.

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