Monday, 12 May 2008
On Saturday I went to my grandsons graduation ceremony at Cambridge. This is the second time I have had the privilege of being invited to a graduation ceremony there and I find that words are inadequate to explain the experience.
First, let me declare my love of the City of Cambridge itself. I love the youth, exhuberance, leafiness and quirkiness of the place. On a guided walking tour of the City our guide pointed out an insignificant looking three story terraced building down a side street and told us that she had worked there alongside 3 Nobel Prize winners who had unraveled the mysteries of DNA. That seems to sum up the craziness of the place to me. WOW WITH BELLS ON!!
She also told us that the University of Cambridge, founded in 1209, was unique in the way that it worked. There is no such thing as a “university” building, it is actually a collection of independent colleges. I am not good at retaining information, and I’m sure DogLover will put me straight, but I seem to remember her saying that each college has students from all disciplines so an economics student will be living alongside an engineering student, a medical student etc. This makes for a very broad educational experience.
I believe that the only “universal” building is the Senate-House where graduation ceremonies have been held for over 800 years and which, as you would expect, are steeped in tradition. Each college has it’s own ceremony starting after lunch with King’s, Trinity, St .John’s, Peterhouse and finishing at about 2000 with Homerton.
After the formal lunch with visitors at their colleges the granuands are walked in all their regalia through the city to the Senate-House. Our ceremony was scheduled for 1700 and started bang on time as the bell chimed. Impressive when you consider that each college will have upward of 100 students graduating. The lady in front of us put it very well, "after all, they have had 800 years to get this right”.
Visitors are seated on tiered benches either in the Gallery or on the floor of the Senate-House and cannot leave until a “break in the proceedings” i.e. the end. We were fortunate enough to be seated on the floor immediately beside where the ceremony was to take place.
The ceremony commences when the Vice-Chancellor enters the Senate-House in procession, led by the Esquire Bedells bearing maces. All the big-wig participants then have little rituals to perform and there is much bowing and scraping and taking off of hats. Apart from a short welcome in English the entire proceedings take place entirely in Latin.
The graduands are led forward four at a time and the person presenting them holds out his hand for each graduand to hold one finger. He then says in Latin “Most worthy Vice-Chancellor and the whole University, I present to you this man (woman) whom I know to be suitable as much by character as by learning to proceed to the degree of (name of degree); for which I pledge my faith to you and to the whole University”. The graduand then kneels and after enclosing the graduand’s hands between his own, the Vice-Chancellor says in Latin “by the authority committed to me I admit you to the degree of (name of degree) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
As this was taking place one poor lady started to have a fit. My grandson said afterwards that he was a bit surprised that they hadn’t stopped the proceedings until she had been carried from the building. I said that I was surprised that they had even allowed her to be carried from the building, bearing in mind they said we couldn’t leave until a “break in the proceedings”! As my husband once said “I suppose that’s what makes England great" (he is Scottish and was being extremely ironic in a similar circumstance).
My grandson studied for his MA at Edinburgh University but he said that graduating from Cambridge as a Master of Philosophy was a whole different ball game. Like I said in the beginning, hard to put into words, but he said that the level of intellect and excellence increases by a factor of 10. He hadn’t realised how spending the year in this rarefied atmosphere would add so much to his confidence. And it's tangible, you can see it. He walks tall and is an exceedingly fine and proud young man.
Originally uploaded by anninfotel