As I have said before, I am a real beginner where degree ceremonies are concerned -- never (until yesterday) having actually "taken" a degree in my life. I have heard about what goes on inside the Cambridge University Senate House (all that finger stuff and Latin), but have never actually witnessed it.
So when I got the nice letter about getting an Hon DLitt from the University of Bristol, I was not only dead chuffed (among other things Bristol has a great Classics and Ancient History department, with a distinctively radical profile) -- I also realised that I'd have to do the full ritual thing (I don't think it's quite on to accept an hon degree and then say "can I have it by post please?")
I have to say that I did feel a bit of trepidation about all this. You can see the basic get up at the top of this post (and I have spared you the hat!) -- not my usual style.
So how did it go?
Truth is that I rather enjoyed it. That's not just because of the pleasures of vanity; though yes it was nice to hear an elegant eulogy read out by an old friend -- Bob Fowler, as orator (seen getting into his togs above!). And it's not just the pleasure of the generous entertainment, and meeting old and new friends (Chancellor of the University is the splendid judge Brenda Hale, and one of the Pro Chancellors is Carol Black, who is to be Newnham's next principal -- sat up till one in the morning with Carol, talking college things, and being politely ticked off by a nervous young hotel porter for making a little too much noise).
It's more the general celebratory atmosphere, which you couldn't help picking up. In my case I got my degree after the undergrads in Classics, Archaeology, History and History of Art had picked up theirs. This meant hordes of young people enjoying success with their Mums and Dads (though I couldn't help wondering if some mini human tragedies were being disguised... the kids who hadnt got the results they needed, or disappointed 2.2s putting on a brave face). Unike Cambridge where, I'm told, absolutely no clapping is allowed -- there was plenty of applause and shouts and whistles (more raucously as the afternoon went on).
But I also couldnt get out of my head the idea of how these big public ritual occasions do tend to bleed into one another. That's to say, it felt quite suspiciously like a wedding, even if not quite in the right order. I walked down the aisle to be given away by a smiley "bedell", listened to the sermon (that's the eulogy), and then put out my hands to make my vows . . .
It was no doubt this sense of similarity that made me instinctively given the Vice Chancellor a kiss after the vows....
Now kiss the bride I thought.
Maybe it will become a new tradition.