Well it’s done now, my educational career has come to an end, and I am no longer in statu pupillari. On Saturday I graduated. It was a poignant day, and the realisation that I was leaving the calm and sheltered harbour of Cambridge behind for the tempestuous high seas of the real world that will undoubtedly be fraught with various (presumably metaphorical rather than literal) Maelströms, Krakens, and other such delights.
The day started with a service in the College chapel, with a couple of classic hymns (such as Jerusalem and Tell Out, My Soul), readings, and an address by the Director of Studies for Medicine. After that, the photo in Front Court, followed by a dress check by the Head Porter and Praelector. We then all processed formally to the Senate House where our degrees get conferred.
It was at this moment, as we were waiting outside that it decided to pour with rain. We entered the Senate House all soaking wet, and there we waited for the graduation to take place. Owing to the large number of Colleges that comprise the University (31 in total), there is a strict order. King’s, Trinity, and St. John’s Colleges go first due to ancient tradition, then the rest follow in order of foundation date, with Peterhouse (est. 1284) first, all the way through until Homerton College (which only gained full College status – by getting its Royal Charter – in 2010) last of all.
The Cambridge graduation ceremony dates back in part to the foundation of the university in 1209, and so is quite unlike most universities’ ceremonies. Instead of walking across a stage, shaking some dignitary’s hand, getting your certificate and going off, it’s rather different.
People are arranged in rows of four, alphabetically, and in the order of precedence for degrees. While you wait, the Head of your College enters, accompanied by some university officials carrying two mediæval maces. Once the entry formalities have concluded, the graduation starts.
Your group proceeds forward to your College’s Praelector who presents his right hand. Each person holds (with their right hand) one of his fingers. He then says to the head of your College (in Latin), that he’s presenting these people for whichever degree(s) they’re getting, as they have proven themselves in both studies and in character. After that, individually, you kneel in front of the head of your College and put your hands together as if you were praying. The head of your College then puts his hands around yours, and (again in Latin) formally admits you to your degree(s). Then you rise, take a step back, bow to him, and walk out the side door of the Senate House where you collect your certificate and shake the hand of your College’s Senior Tutor.
Anyway, once all that had been concluded, we headed back to College for a reception and to say some final farewells. Afterwards, my family and I went punting on the Cam, and visited the Geology Department one last time prior to returning to College to finish packing and heading home.
It was a great day, and a truly memorable one. I have no doubts that I shall miss the University, my College, and perhaps most of all, my Department. On the upside, there are extremely strong alumni relations at Cambridge (presumably owing to the shared trauma of completing the Tripos), and there’s a University-wide alumni festival every year in September (which I fully intend to attend this year). There’re also things run by both College and the Department too, so rather than being a goodbye, it’s more of an à bientôt.