Archive for September 12, 2019

Conferring Ceremony

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 12, 2019 by telescoper

So far it has been a very busy but interesting day, involving both the start of a new academic year and the end of the old one. Today I did three subject information talks – to different groups of students – about our Mathematical and Theoretical Physics courses here at Maynooth University. This is part of the pre-term  Orientation Week, designed to help new arrivals at the University settle into their courses and choose their options.

In between these sessions signifying the start of the new academic cycle,  I had to don academic garb in order to attend my first ever Graduation Ceremony at Maynooth, thus marking the end of the old.

These events are not actually called Graduation Ceremonies here in Ireland but Conferring Ceremonies. I was impressed that the local suppliers of academic dress, Phelan Conan were able to find and supply the correct 1989 vintage DPhil gown from Sussex University as opposed to the less interesting modern one.

Aula Maxima, Maynooth

Conferring Ceremonies in Maynooth are held in the Aula Maxima, on South Campus, which is an excellent venue with lots of atmosphere.I somehow found myself at the front of the academic procession and almost screwed everything up by entering through the wrong door, but a sharp poke in the back from a member of the Psychology Department set me on the right track and I ended up in the right place on the stage.

The ceremony, which was rather shorter those I’ve attended in UK universities, was conducted in a mixture of English, Latin and Irish and was quite enjoyable. The President, Philip Nolan, gave a very nice and well-chosen speech at the end before we spilled out into the drizzle for handshakes and photographs, thence into Pugin Hall for a lunch reception and then, for me at least, a rush back onto North Campus to give another subject information talk.

Whatever their name, graduation ceremonies are funny things. With all their costumes and weird traditions, they even seem a bit absurd. On the other hand, even in these modern times, we live with all kinds of rituals and I don’t see why we shouldn’t celebrate academic achievement in this way.

I love graduation ceremonies, actually. As the graduands go across the stage you realize that every one of them has a unique story to tell and a whole universe of possibilities in front of them. How their lives will unfold no-one can tell, but it’s a privilege to be there for one important milestone on their journey. Getting to read their names out is quite stressful – it may not seem like it, but I do spend quite a lot of time fretting about the correct pronunciation of the names. It’s also a bit strange in some cases finally to put a name to a face that I’ve seen around the place regularly, just before they leave the University for good. I always find this a bittersweet occasion. There’s joy and celebration, of course, but tempered by the realization that many of the young people who you’ve seen around long enough to grow accustomed to their faces, will disappear into the big wide world never to be seen again. On the other hand, this year quite a few graduates of the Department of Theoretical Physics are staying in Maynooth to do Masters programmes so they won’t all be vanishing without trace.

Graduation of course isn’t just about dressing up. Nor is it only about recognizing academic achievement. It’s also a rite of passage on the way to adulthood and independence, so the presence of the parents at the ceremony adds another emotional dimension to the goings-on. Although everyone is rightly proud of the achievement – either their own in the case of the graduands or that of others in the case of the guests – there’s also a bit of sadness to go with the goodbyes. It always seems that as a lecturer you are only just getting to know students by the time they graduate, but that’s enough to miss them when they go.

Anyway, all this is a roundabout way of saying congratulations once more to everyone who graduated today, and I wish you all the very best for the future!