Graduation: no animals killed
Our students graduated on Saturday. In Cambridge graduation lasts three days, from Thursday till Saturday. They go to pick up their degrees by college, in order of the date of foundation of the college (which means that Newnham in 1871 comes at the beginning of the last day).
I never go to the ceremony itself. In fact I have never been to a graduation ceremony at all, not even my own -- for any of my degrees (I just got the certificate through the post, in absentia as we say). When I was first graduating with my BA, I just couldn't face all the rituals -- the dressing up in the fur-lined hood, the clasping the fingers of the "praelector", the Latin and the hand-clasping with the vice-chancellor (or the vc's deputy -- the top-dog understandably doesn't sit in the senate house for three days presiding over this).
I also couldn't face organising the whole show for a pair of divorced parents (they werent technically divorced, as it turned out -- my Dad had lost interest in the whole proceedings after the decree nisi and had never bothered to apply for the decree absolute, despite reminders from his solicitors. . . . but they were divorced in spirit). I told both of them a real whopper: graduation wasn't any longer what most people did, it was just for the blazer brigade.
It is now one of my biggest regrets. At the cost of a little embarrassment to MB and some deft negotiation of parental squabbling, I could have given them a really proud and memorable day. So now when any student says to me that they don't fancy it, I try my hardest to persuade them to go through with it.
And I always try to go to the party that Newnham lays on for every one after the ceremony itself.
It is, I guess, much as it always has been -- loads of young women in fur-lined hoods, loads of beaming mums and dads (who have a capacity to be delighted even when the off-spring didn't do quite as well as they might secretly have hoped), and lashings of bubbly (don't tell the Telegraph: I'm pretty sure the students pay anyway!). My pleasant job -- and it really is fun -- is to track down my students and to meet their parents, usually for the first time.
Only once in 25 years has any parent complained about anything. They are mostly very grateful and impressed for what we offer (especially for the personal attention that senior academics give to their daughters) -- and they are only too happy to share unbloggable insights into their off-spring, which one is glad one hasn't known before!
It could all have been a ceremony taking place fifty years ago. Except for a few things. We now have a stall selling the college merchandise to the graduands and their relations (anyone for a teddy with a Newnham scarf or jumper?). And the fur hoods are now not real, but safely synthetic. Indeed the programme of the ceremony in the senate house explicitly reassures the worried audience that no animals have been killed in the making of this graduation ceremony.
Well, not quite. One of my students had got hold of an old hood, which indeed had been made out of real bunny (or whatever). And I have to say that it looked much more elegant. It was a soft dusky cream, not the bright polyester-feel white of the synthetic versions, which moult all over the place and get full of static.
Ok, to kit them all out with the real version could not possibly be worth a mass cull of the rabbit population (even supposing the animal-friendly students would tolerate it) -- but it would certainly be an aesthetic improvement.