Archive for Graduation

Graduation Engagement

Posted in Education with tags , , on January 23, 2015 by telescoper

Yesterday I took part in the Winter Graduation ceremony for students in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) at the University of Sussex; as Head of School it was my very pleasant duty to read out the names of the graduands as they passed across the stage at the Brighton Dome, where the ceremony takes place.

Let me first of all congratulate again all those who graduated yesterday!

The Winter ceremony is largely devoted to students graduating from postgraduate programmes, either taught (MSc or MA)  or research-based (PhD). We don’t have huge numbers of such students in MPS so I had relatively few names to read out yesterday. Most of our students graduate in the summer ceremony. Sharing the ceremony with us this time was the School of Business, Management and Economics which, by contrast, has huge taught postgraduate programmes so the acting Head of School for BMEC (as it is called) had a lot of work to do!

It was nice to have Sanjeev Bhaskar back in place as Chancellor (he was absent on filming duty for last year’s summer ceremonies), who is charming and friendly as well as frequently hilarious.

Anyway, getting to the point, graduation is a special moment for all students involved, but there was an extra extra special moment for two students in particular yesterday.

I was sitting in the front of the platform party very near Sanjeev when a male student from BMEC graduated. As well as shaking the Chancellor’s hand he had a fairly long discussion with him and slipped him what appeared to be a small box in such a way that the audience couldn’t see it. Then, after walking across the stage, the student waited at the far side instead of returning to the auditorium by going down the stairs.

Funny, I thought, but at that point I had no idea what was going on.

The next graduand was a female student. When she got to Sanjeev he shook her hand as usual but then called back the previous one, still standing on the stage, and gave the box back to him. Of course it contained an engagement ring. And so it came to pass that Jing Liu (kneeling) proposed to Qin Me (standing).

proposals

It was a wonderful moment, although it struck me as a high-risk strategy and it wasn’t at all obvious at first sight how it would turn out. She doesn’t look that sure in the picture, actually! She did, however, say “yes” and the couple are now engaged to be married. I wish them every happiness. I’m sure I speak for everyone at the ceremony when I say that it brought an extra dimension of joy to what was already a wonderfully joyous occasion.

Our lives seem to revolve around rituals of one sort or another. Graduation is one, marriage is another. This is definitely the first time I’ve seen this particular combination.

I love graduation ceremonies. 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.

UPDATE: Here’s a video of the ceremony. The big event happens about from 44:48…

Commemorations

Posted in Biographical, Football, History with tags , , , , , , on July 9, 2014 by telescoper

This is a busy week in many ways and for many reasons, but the main activity revolves around Graduation at the University of Sussex. There are 7 ceremonies this week altogether; my School (Mathematical and Physical Sciences) is No. 4, which takes place tomorrow morning (Thursday).

Things are going to be a bit different this year. The Chancellor of the University, Sanjeev Bhaskar, is unable to preside owing to prior commitments (filming episodes of Doctor Who in Cardiff). This is sad because his informality and sense of humour usually brings an enormous amount to such occasions. After much discussion and debate it was eventually decided (on Monday) that the normal order of ceremonies would be changed so that the Head of the graduating School would stand in the centre of the platform, where the Chancellor would normally be situated, in order to shake hands with (and generally congratulate) the graduands as their names are read out and they cross the stage. Normally the Head of School simply reads out the list of names from a podium at one side, so it will be nice to be a bit more involved, although doubt that there will be as many students wanting to take selfies with me as there would have been had Sanjeev been there!

I also have the honour to present an honorary graduate at the ceremony, but I’ll probably say more about that in a future post.

This is a special graduation week for another reason too. It’s now fifty years since the first University of Sussex graduation ceremony in 1964. The University only received its Royal Charter in 1961 and there were only 38 graduates at the first ceremony. This week about 3000 will cross the stage.

Anyway, last night there was a special Commemoration Dinner to mark the 50th Anniversary in the Dining Room of Brighton Pavilion:

Brighton_Pavilion_Dining_room

The decor is a little understated for my tastes, but apart from that it was a splendid occasion. We didn’t sit at the central table, which is covered with period crockery and cutlery, and was roped off; we sat at smaller tables situated in the space around it. Owing to some sort of administrative error I was accidentally seated at a Table 1, along with a host of important people and the Vice-Chancellor. This turned out well for me as I was seated near Asa Briggs (now Lord Briggs) a famous historian who was the second Vice-Chancellor of the University. He’s now 94 years young and a bit frail but wonderfully interesting conversation ensued. The opportunity to talk to a true Sussex legend added to the fine food and wine to make for a wonderful evening.

There’s another point worth commemorating in the light of the forthcoming centenary of the start of the First World War. One thing I didn’t know before this week was that during World War 1, Brighton Pavilion was commandeered for use as a hospital for wounded soldiers, many of them from India. In fact, the first ever recipient of the Victoria Cross from the British Indian Army, Khudadad Khan, recovered there from wounds sustained in action in Belgium in 1914:

In October 1914, the Germans launched a major offensive in northern Belgium, in order to capture the vital ports of Boulogne in France and Nieuport in Belgium. In what came to be known as the First Battle of Ypres, the newly arrived 129th Baluchis were rushed to the frontline to support the hard-pressed British troops. On 31 October, two companies of the Baluchis bore the brunt of the main German attack near the village of Gheluvelt in Hollebeke Sector. The out-numbered Baluchis fought gallantly but were overwhelmed after suffering heavy casualties. Sepoy Khudadad Khan’s machine-gun team, along with one other, kept their guns in action throughout the day; preventing the Germans from making the final breakthrough. The other gun was disabled by a shell and eventually Khudadad Khan’s own team was overrun. All the men were killed by bullets or bayonets except Khudadad Khan, who despite being badly wounded, had continued working his gun. He was left for dead by the enemy but despite his wounds, he managed to crawl back to his regiment during the night. Thanks to his bravery, and that of his fellow Baluchis, the Germans were held up just long enough for Indian and British reinforcements to arrive. They strengthened the line, and prevented the German Army from reaching the vital ports. For his matchless feat of courage and gallantry, Sepoy Khudadad Khan was awarded the Victoria Cross.

We were honoured last night by the presence at dinner of Sergeant Johnson Beharry who, in 2005, became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for over thirty years for acts of extreme courage when serving as Lance Corporal in Iraq.

On 1 May 2004, Beharry was driving a Warrior tracked armoured vehicle that had been called to the assistance of a foot patrol caught in a series of ambushes. The Warrior was hit by multiple rocket propelled grenades, causing damage and resulting in the loss of radio communications. The platoon commander, the vehicle’s gunner and a number of other soldiers in the vehicle were injured. Due to damage to his periscope optics, Pte. Beharry was forced to open his hatch to steer his vehicle, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire. Beharry drove the crippled Warrior through the ambush, taking his own crew and leading five other Warriors to safety. He then extracted his wounded comrades from the vehicle, all the time exposed to further enemy fire. He was cited on this occasion for “valour of the highest order”.

While back on duty on 11 June 2004, Beharry was again driving the lead Warrior of his platoon through Al Amarah when his vehicle was ambushed. A rocket propelled grenade hit the vehicle six inches from Beharry’s head, and he received serious shrapnel injuries to his face and brain. Other rockets then hit the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew. Despite his life-threatening injuries, Beharry retained control of his vehicle and drove it out of the ambush area before losing consciousness. He required brain surgery for his head injuries, and he was still recovering in March 2005 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

It’s humbling to be in the presence of such a courageous fellow. I only wish our mendacious politicians hadn’t engineered the conflict that made his actions necessary in the first place.  Resplendent in his dress uniform, I’m glad to say that Sergeant Beharry seems fully recovered from his injuries.

I had forgotten to take my Blackberry with me when I left my flat to walk to the dinner so was unable to keep up with the World Cup semi-final. This came up in the conversation at the table. Lord Briggs concurred with my prediction that Germany would win comfortably. It was only when I left the Pavilion and walked past a pub on the way to the bus-stop that I saw the scale of the thrashing that Germany had administered. It was 7-0 when I stopped to look at the screen just in time to see Brazil score. I wouldn’t even describe it as a consolation goal. This amazing result will now be forever linked in my mind with the other events of the evening.

Anyway, must finish now. I have to write my speech for tomorrow’s ceremony!

 

Rites of Passage

Posted in Brighton, Education with tags , , , on January 28, 2014 by telescoper

Just back home from the drinks reception that followed today’s Winter Graduation Ceremony at the University of Sussex at the Dome, in Brighton. And a very nice event it was too!

The Winter Graduation ceremony is primarily taken up with postgraduate degrees, and within School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences the largest proportion of those are in Mathematics, especially in the MSc courses in Financial Mathematics and Corporate and Financial Risk Management on which we have a large number of overseas students, e.g. From China. My first graduation ceremony as Head of School therefore presented me with some pronunciation challenges as I read out the names of the graduands. I was a bit nervous beforehand, not because I’m afraid of making a fool of myself but because these days everything is captured on video for posterity and I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s record of their Big Day. I practised quite a lot actually, and think it was OK.

I am always impressed at students who have the courage to travel halfway around the world to study in a foreign land. Graduation is a rite of passage for all students, but it must be of even greater significance for students from abroad.

I’ve attended graduation ceremonies at a number of other universities, and the big difference with Sussex is how much less formal it is. A great deal of credit for that must go to the Chancellor, the brilliantly funny and approachable Sanjeev Bhaskar, who ran the show in inimitable style. He also has a lovely head of hair.

Sanjeev always had a word with the graduands as they crossed the stage, often a hug, and very allowed them to take a selfie, once sitting in the Chancellor’s chair! I found it all very amusing, which helped me relax before my turn at the podium with the list of names. I’ve sat through a large number of dull and stuffy graduation ceremonies in my time, and much prefer the Sussex style!

Also graduating with top marks in our MSc in Cosmology was Mateja Gosenca, who is now my PhD student. Here we are at the drinks party after the graduation ceremony; Mateja is looking very happy holding her certificate as winner of the Sir William McCrea Prize for the best student on the MSc programme!

That one was taken with my Blackberry; here’s a much nicer version taken with a proper camera:

Mateja_again

Nerth gwlad ei gwybodaeth

Posted in Education, Opera, Politics with tags , , , , , , on July 15, 2010 by telescoper

Once again the wheel of academic life has turned full circle. A year to the day since I blogged about the last graduation ceremony for the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University, here I am doing it again. Last night Cardiff experienced some of the heaviest rainfall I’ve seen for ages and I got a bit soggy on the way to St David’s Hall for this morning’s ceremony. Given that today is St Swithin’s Day this doesn’t bode well for the rest of the summer…

I confess it didn’t feel too comfortable sitting there on stage under the lights in a slightly damp suit, wearing a tie, and sporting mortarboard and gown but it went pretty well. Three Schools went through during the ceremony I attended: Earth & Ocean Sciences and Psychology as well as Physics & Astronomy.

We had by far the smallest group of graduands; the School of Psychology is particularly huge and is also notable for having such a small percentage of male graduates. In Physics & Astronomy we have about 20% female students whereas Psychology must be >95%. We often sit around at tea-time discussing how to persuade more girls to study Physics, but I wonder if anyone frets about how to get more boys to do Psychology?

It’s a very proud moment when the students you know receive their degrees. This year, in fact, produced the first set of BSc graduates that have completed their entire study period while I’ve been here since I only arrived three years ago.

It must be a nerve-wracking experience crossing the stage at St David’s Hall in front of your family and friends, especially in high heels as most of the girls did. I would have thought sensible shoes were a wiser option, but then what do I know?

If you want to see the ceremony you can do so by following this link. I’m in the front row on stage, to the right hand side, dressed in a blue gown and mortarboard but not visible on the cross-stage view.

The Honorary Fellowship presented during our ceremony was received by Professor Paul Harris, a distinguished psychologist. It’s worth mentioning that another such event earlier in the week saw the award of an Honorary Fellowship to Stephen Fry who has been involved in studies of bipolar disorder at the University. He tweeted regularly during his short visit to Cardiff, e.g.

Must say Cardiff is looking spankingly good in the late afternoon sunshine. Castle is gleaming, Town Hall glowing. Much to like here.

I’m sure the university press machine will make as much as they can of his comments. And why not? Cardiff does indeed have much to like. Even in the rain.

The ceremony ended on a high note or, in fact, on several.  Mary-Jean O’Doherty, a wonderful young Soprano from the Cardiff International Academy of Voice, gave us a fine rendition of the Queen of the Night’s  Act II aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Die Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen is a tremendously difficult coloratura piece featuring a barrage of stratospheric high notes. I thought it was tremendously brave to take that on, coming into it completely cold, but she did it fantastically well and it fair brought the house down. I note that the opera from which this aria was taken is featured in Welsh National Opera’s forthcoming autumn season, where it is sure to prove popular.

I’m pretty sure not many people in the audience knew the Opera or could understand German, however, because although the music is wonderful the lyrics aren’t entirely appropriate. The first line translates as “The Rage of Hell is boiling in my heart….”. Perhaps that was a subliminal response to the fact that the  Cardiff International Academy of Voice is closing later this year.

Anyway it was then back to the School for a lunch party – which was very nicely done, I think – and a speech of farewell from the Head of School ending with the award of prizes for students who had performed exceptionally well in their studies. I’m fortunate that the prize-winning student of the MPhys (4-year) cohort is staying on in Cardiff to do a PhD under my supervision.

Just in case any of the new graduates are reading this, let me add my congratulations to those of the Head of School and also repeat his encouragement to you to stay in touch. It’s always a delight when former students drop in for a chat, but if you can’t do that please do keep in touch on Facebook or the like.

I know the graduate job market is tough at the moment, but don’t be discouraged if you haven’t got anything sorted out yet. In the long run what you’ve learned will benefit you.  I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone who has had the pleasure of teaching you over the last three or four years when I say that we wish you all the very best in your future careers.

PS. The title of this post in in Welsh. It translates as “A nation’s strength is in its learning”.

Graduandi Graduati

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on July 15, 2009 by telescoper

Today was the day of the graduation ceremony for Cardiff  University‘s School of Physics & Astronomy, which took place in the fine surroundings of St David’s Hall. It’s a proud day for the students and their parents so, before anything else, let me offer my congratulations to all those who graduated today. Congratulations and well done to you all!

I put on my robes in the Green Room and was in the academic staff procession at the beginning and end of the ceremony. I also sat on stage during the conferment of degrees and the speech by the University’s President, Lord Kinnock. Some of the proceedings were conducted in Welsh – including the actual degree award – but it was comprehensible enough for all foreigners (even the English) to follow what was going on.

Graduation ceremonies are funny things. With all their costumes and weird traditions, they do 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.

Graduation is a grammatical phenomenon too. The word “graduation” is derived from the latin word gradus meaning a step, from which was eventually made the mediaeval latin verb graduare, meaning to take a degree. The past participle  of this is formed via the supine graduatus, hence the English noun “graduate” (i.e. one who has taken a degree). The word graduand, on the other hand, which is used before and during the ceremony to describe those about to graduate is from the  gerundive form graduandus meaning “to be graduated”. What really happens, therefore, is that students swap their gerundives for participles, although I suspect most participants don’t think of it in quite those terms…

The academic procession is quite colourful because staff wear the gown appropriate to their highest degree. Colours and styles vary greatly from one University to another even within the United Kingdom, and there are even more variations on show when schools contain staff who got their degrees abroad. Since I got my doctorate from the University of Sussex, which was created in the 1960s, the academic garb I have to wear on these occasions  is actually quite modern-looking. With its raised collar, red ribbons and capped shoulders it’s also more than a little bit camp. It often brings  a few comments when I’m in the procession, but I usually reply by saying I bought the outfit at Ann Summers.

Graduation of course isn’t just about education. 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. The new graduates were invited back to the School for a reception after this morning’s ceremony, along with parents and friends. That provided a more informal opportunity to say goodbye. Some, of course, are continuing their studies either at Cardiff or elsewhere so I’ll be seeing at least some of them again.

Although this was my first attendance at the Cardiff University graduation, I’ve been to  graduation ceremonies at several universities as a staff member. They differ in detail but largely follow the same basic format. Compared to others I’ve been at, the Cardiff version is very friendly and rather informal. For one thing, the Vice-Chancellor actually shakes hands with all the graduands as they cross the stage. At Nottingham University, for example, where I was before moving here, the V-C just sat there reading a book and occasionally nodded as they trooped across in front of him.

The venue for Cardiff’s graduation is also right in the city centre, so all day you can find students in their regalia wandering through the town (sometimes with their doting parents in tow). I like this a lot because it gives the University a much greater sense of belonging to the city than is the case when everything happens on a campus miles out of town.

The most remarkable thing  I noticed in the ceremony was not to do with Physics & Astronomy, but with Cardiff’s School of Psychology which is much larger and in which at least 90% of the graduates were female. In our School the proportions aren’t exactly reversed but are about 75% male to 25% female.

I’ve also been through two graduations on the other side of the fence, as it were. My first degree came from Cambridge so I had to participate in the even more archaic ceremony for that institution. The whole thing is done in Latin there (or was when I graduated) and involves each graduand holding a finger held out by their College’s Praelector and then kneeling down in front of the presiding dignitary, who is either the Vice-Chancellor ot the Chancellor. I can’t remember which. It’s also worth mentioning that although I did Natural Sciences (specialising in Theoretical Physics), the degree I got was Bachelor of Arts. Other than that, and the fact that the graduands walk to the Senate House from their College through the streets of Cambridge,  I don’t remember much about actual ceremony.

I was very nervous for my first graduation. The reason was that my parents had divorced some years before and my Mum had re-married. My Dad wouldn’t speak to her or her second husband. Immediately after the ceremony there was a garden party at my college, Magdalene, at which the two parts of my family occupied positions at opposite corners of the lawn and I scuttled between them trying to keep everyone happy. It was like that for the rest of the day and I have to say it was very stressful.

A few years later I got my doctorate (actually DPhil) from the University of Sussex. The ceremony in that case was in the Brighton Centre on the seafront. It was pretty much the same deal again with the warring factions, but I enjoyed the whole day a lot more that time. And I got the gown.

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