Graduation Day

IMG_0943Two weeks ago, on Monday 18th July, I had my graduation ceremony formally confirming my qualification as a Master of Engineering and bringing to an end six years of hard work. After all these years it was good to finally get there, despite my misgivings about what I’ve had to set aside in order to do so.

Graduation is one of the high points of the academic year for staff, as they watch the students they’ve educated for several years gain their qualifications; my academic tutor, who has been supporting me through my degree for several years, deliberately put off full retirement so he could see me through to graduation. For us students it marks the culmination of years of hard work and therefore, while not all students attend graduation, most do and for them it is a proud moment. For me, after all the effort I put in to earning my degree, I was particularly keen to attend and I worked hard during my final year to make sure that nothing happened to prevent it.

The graduation ceremony itself is a formal affair, with graduates wearing suits or appropriate dresses with academic robes, a separate hood with a strap that tucks under the tie. For Southampton’s undergraduates the robes are black with blue and gold trim, with a mortarboard; postgrads wear burgundy robes with a bonnet; faculty wear robes of their alma mater with a bonnet, while professors wear yet another type of hat that I haven’t been able to identify. It’s possible to buy robes but they are very expensive, so students usually rent them for the day; faculty, who need theirs more often, get them paid for by the university.

My ceremony was to take place at 12 o’clock, but I was to be there two hours in advance to get robed up and ready. The day itself was hot and sunny, with temperatures reaching 28°C; hardly ideal weather to be wearing black! I headed down on the train the day before, taking up an offer to stay at a friend’s house, so that I could be freshly showered, shaved and suited up in time for the ceremony; My dad, along with my Nan, drove down in the morning. I felt very anxious during the morning but settled down once I got up to campus just before Ten. I said hello to a few friends and coursemates, checked in with Dad (who was about an hour away at that point), then went to get robed up and to pick up seating tickets and other paperwork. This included my degree certificate; the ceremony itself would be a purely ‘ceremonial’ event. At this point my Dad and Nan arrived, and with the start of the ceremony nearing we made our way to the Turner Sims, the university’s concert hall where the ceremony would take place. Family were directed to one part of the hall, while graduands were to wait at another; fortunately, we were waiting in the shade.

While we waited we were briefed on the ceremony by the Presiding Officer; this mainly centred on the ‘secret’ handshake with which the Pro Chancellor would confirm our graduation, and some details of the ceremony. We were then shown to our seats. This involved quite a lengthy wait while everyone arrived; we relaxed with some light conversation.

Fellow students Alison, Marian and Selvan waiting  for the ceremony to start.

As the ceremony started we were bidden to stand as the faculty procession entered: lecturers, professors, and the Pro Chancellor entered, wearing a variety of robes, and took their seats at the front of the hall. The Pro Chancellor opened the ceremony and Professor John Shrimpton, head of Aeronautics and Astronautics, presented us each by name, starting with the Bachelors of Engineering (BEng), then Masters of Engineering (MEng), Masters of Science (MSc), Doctors of Engineering (EngD) and finally the Doctors of Philosophy (PhD). We were led down in small groups in advance of this, each standing to the side of the stage until our name was read out, then walking to the Pro Chancellor for the handshake and a brief few words of congratulations, before being guided out by chaperons. We were re-seated inside the hall, but in a different seat.

Once the last of the students had completed the ceremony the Pro Chancellor gave a speech, which she necessarily cut short due to the heat, before the faculty procession left the hall. With this the ceremony was complete and we made our way outside to congratulate each other and take pictures, then went to a buffet reception for lunch and refreshments.

Later we gathered with the faculty outside the physics building for a cohort photo. With this, the planned activities of the day were complete and it was time to say goodbye for one more time. Some of my coursemates have already found jobs; Jess is off to the European Space Agency; Marian is continuing on at Southampton to do a PhD; others are off to places like Qinetiq and Airbus. I found it a sad moment as I’ve been working with these people for the past four years, and I’m keen to maintain a connection with them in some way if I can.

Before I left I found the photographers and got some professional photographs of myself with my family, then turned in my robes. I knew that Connor, one of my friends from the skydiving club, would have been preparing for his ceremony about then and I was able to catch him for a brief goodbye before I left; then it was off to Dad’s car for the drive home.

Despite all the problems I’ve faced in my time at Southampton and how I feel about how it has gone, it was a proud moment and one I’m going to remember for a long time.