Here we are, PhD graduates, their supervisors, the Dean, and me. The Dean is the only one not still wearing his finery.
Saturday I ate a protein-rich breakfast of bacon and eggs. I dressed with care in my nice black suit with a blue jumper underneath for warmth. I thought long and hard about which earrings to wear and decided on the plain pearls. I packed my academic robes and floppy hat in a suit bag and hung it in the back of the mini. I packed my bulging handbag in the boot of the mini and only took on me what I could fit in my pockets – a phone, a credit card, and the car keys.
I was a bit nervous, but not much. This wasn’t my special day, after all. I graduated with my PhD in 2010 but at present I am allowed by the uni to dress up in my glad rags and join the lecturers on stage to celebrate other’s graduations.
At the multi-storey carpark I met with another well-dressed woman holding a suit bag. We saluted each other with the bags and walked to the Federation Concert Hall together. We knew each other more from email contact than from sight.
She asked which area I was from.
‘Chemistry,’ I replied, ‘well, I was from Chemistry.’
Then I told her what I was doing now, and that if she needed an editor to look at her student manuscripts she now knew where to come. (I really need to invest in some business cards for such an occasion.)
In the robing room I met and mingled with long-standing friends. It was fun to catch up, good to see my colleagues again. Especially when we were there for such a celebration. We got dressed up, adjusted each others hoods, checked the tassels on the floppy hats. The only real awkwardness came when we had to pair up to walk in the academic procession. I found myself paired in a group of three and that just doesn’t work, but hey, we’re all adults. We worked it out.
And then it was time to put on our best pompous faces and make our way through the foyer of the Grand Chancellor Hotel to the concert hall where graduation was being held.
I must admit I was a bit rebellious. I was supposed to sit on the end of a row of five but I just wandered further and sat in the back row with my ex-boss. That caused a little bit of panic when the people didn’t think there were enough chairs for us all. But they got over it. And I bet they felt pretty silly when everyone sat down and they saw the empty seat in the middle of the row.
I wasn’t the worst behaved person on stage. One of the academics stood up and took a photo with his phone when his student crossed the stage. That was a little unprofessional. But a lot of fun.
We had six PhD students graduating on Saturday. Six from Chemistry, among the 50-ish PhDs in total for that particular ceremony. (I am not totally sure of my numbers because I foolishly left my program behind.) Out of the six Chemistry graduates, five were present to dress up in their floppy hats and walk the stage. It was so great to be there and celebrate with them.
The PhD is a long journey, long and fraught with many a danger. But they made it, and Saturday was a day for pure celebration of a milestone reached. I was so glad to be there to celebrate with them and their families.
I was also super-glad to see a couple of special students reach the milestone of a bachelor’s degree. They were students I had worked with in their very first chemistry classes. Students that had become friends over the course of their studies. I never know when these people are graduating (we’re not that close friends) but I was thrilled to see them walk the stage.
After all the pomp was finished we mingled over sausage rolls and party pies (we didn’t make it in time for any sushi) and took many photos and gave many hugs. I repeated, ‘congratulations’ over and over again, but I meant it every time. The hall was crowded and loud, but full of love, joy, and a sense of satisfaction. There is something important about attending the ceremony and giving yourself closure.
I love the pomp and ceremony of a graduation ceremony. It speaks to something deep in my English heritage. It reminds me of my heroes – Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers. I know all the pomp is unnecessary, but for me it’s a great way to celebrate the gaining of an important milestone and I congratulate again all my friends who had their special day on Saturday.
I didn’t make it to the PhD celebration parties that were held on Saturday afternoon and night. If you want to find out why, there’s a great book you can read that will explain it all (wink, wink). This post is my small and introverted way of saying again a huge congratulations to my friends who graduated on Saturday (and to my special friend who graduated Friday as well).