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beginnings


comm-1.pngYesterday was Commencement.

It's not every day that you get to participate in a ceremony that dates back hundreds of years (around 400 in this case, at least certainly for parts of it). The entire ceremony is in Latin, except for a few words here and there, and with a well-defined structure. Now, I am generally skeptical of rituals, since in many cases the ritual itself has both outlived the need for it and any knowledge of why it was being done, leaving only an empty shell of repetition. What's interesting is that, in this case, skepticism or not, I was eventually pulled into it. The slow but determined pace, everything in Latin (in which, to someone who doesn't know Latin, even the menu for a restaurant sounds portentous), the process by which the degrees are conferred, where a sort of conversation is pretty much "enacted" between the Proctor and the University's Senate, where the Proctor "presents" some people for conferring and requests that the Senate recognize them and award them the degree (which they do of course, although I suppose that theoretically someone could throw a tantrum and deny it!). More subtle things are also interesting, PhD candidates enter last guided by a guy with a scepter or something (I still don't know what that was for), in essence being guided into the ceremony by someone external. But when it's done you leave following the Provost and the Senate, pretty much declaring that you're now "part of the team" to a certain degree.

The colors of the gown (or the "technical" term I prefer, "cape" :)) were, um, slightly unexpected. Having no idea about these kinds of things, I was completely surprised when they it handed to me. The red and yellow colors of the PhD gown are for Trinity College Dublin, and each College has its own colors (and this applies to other Universities in Ireland and in the UK, like Oxford and Cambridge on which TCD was modeled). There are more "rules" related to the gown's colors (e.g., a Professor's gown is based on the colors for the Ph.D. I think) but I'll have to find a good historical guide for all that eventually, it sounds like there should be some interesting stories behind some of these things. The weight of the "cape" is something to behold and after a while you can't help but feeling different just by wearing it. Which I guess is the point!

One more thing, a small matter of language. I think it's great that this ceremony is called "commencement," which aside from its meaning as the ceremony itself or the day for it, also means a beginning, a start. In a sense, the ceremony celebrates the new stage that's about to follow. The formal Spanish term for Commencement is "colación" which, in Spanish, pretty much sounds like a mix between "collating" (a good translation for one of the meanings of the word) and flushing something down a toilet (yeah, not a nice image, I know). In fact, "colación" comes from "colar" which aside from meaning "the conferring of a degree" also means "to pass through a tight space, to pass liquid through a filter" and even "sneak through." Anyway, aside from the imagery, all terms in Spanish refer to the fact that you're finishing something rather than starting a new phase, more of a looking back than the looking forward implied by "commencement". I wonder if similar things happen in other languages.

So afterwards (cue Monty Python) "there was much rejoicing", then Dinner at the Commons Hall with my parents (a tradition that's 200 years old too) and then, of course, off to the Pub with Philip, who was also graduating, and others from NTRG, in a ... tradition... that is... probably as old as humankind itself. :) At some point during the night I learned the slang "fair fucks to ya" which means something like "way to go" but much more, um, endearing (how could I graduate without knowing that?! Shocking!). Then I said goodbye and walked back home, through cold wind and clear night. It was a good day.

To beginnings...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 19 2005 at 7:46 PM

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