Thursday, 6 September 2012

Graduation is upon us once more

Hi everyone. Amidst all the political and social gloom, The Hegemon starts a week of graduation ceremonies today. No, I don't know why we do it in September either. It's all very lovely though: hundreds of people dressed up to the nines beaming proudly. Being a widening participation institution, graduation's even more special than at the élite places: so many of our students are returners, or the first people in their families every to get to university, or have struggled against the odds to get here. It's also a much more diverse crowd than many universities, so the week's festivities highlight what I think is important about what we do: social mobility in action. I know that our non-white students, and our working-class students are far less likely to reach the top of their professions than their posh white counterparts, but we're doing our bit.

If you leave your office, you're guaranteed to find yourself press-ganged into taking photos for people and randomly congratulating graduates. I love it, actually. I manage not to mention the jobs market or any of the other clouds hanging over these people's lives, now more than ever. Just for a day, our graduates deserve to bask in their own achievements. It's great to be reminded of how much optimism is still out there. I was always a worrier - I worried about passing my degree, then about getting a job, then about passing the next degree and worried a lot about passing the one after that. I'm not, you may have gathered, a person who finds it easy just to relax and luxuriate in achievement, so I find it (albeit temporarily) uplifting to spend time with uncomplicatedly happy people.

That's why I encourage my students to go to their graduation ceremonies even if they think it's cheesy or silly, or the institution is compromised by dubious links: there will be very few days in the rest of their lives in which they're wholeheartedly praised for their achievements. Don't miss out on one of them because you're too busy/cool/shy or whatever. Don't be all 'yeah it's just for the parents' and blasé about it. Leave being cool for tomorrow. I went to all of mine - the parents were quite bored by the end and were quite relieved when I excused them from the PGCE ceremony, mostly because I didn't rate the course myself. But the others were definitely worth coping with the flummery and formality. Even if one of my friends (or so I thought) announced in public that I didn't deserve my degree. Embarrassment all round that time…

Graduation mirrors my thoughts about being a student in general. For most people, post-graduation life will involve a lot of tedium and misery. You may well find yourself in an unfulfilling job coping with pompous or simply non-simpatico people, if you get a job at all. As a student, you're asked to read and think about things which (in theory) you're already enthusiastic about. The hours are good, you can take risks and go off in different directions, you'll meet a wider section of society than you grew up in, you can re-shape your personality, appearance and beliefs, and all the world's knowledge is at your finger-tips. The main activities involve arguing about ideas with similarly passionate people. In short, it's brilliant. Work, on the whole, is rubbish. Even my glamorous job has its tedious elements! Whereas being a student is roughly three years of just thinking about stuff. You'll miss it when you leave…

One more thing. Female graduates: like your male colleagues, you all look great. But tell me: when did we as a species, decide that footwear no longer had to be shaped like, well, feet?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It has been a wonderful sight - all those happy people and even the academics look passable doing the march through town. At least Wolverhampton knows it has a university now.