You have to love convocations

Convocation is one of my favourite celebrations. Seeing graduates in their black robes, adorned by the multi-coloured hoods based on their discipline of study evokes pride, emotion, and tradition. There is something grand about the ceremony, and yet I found myself with gown envy.

Sitting as part of the platform party, as several of my former students crossed the stage, I was on the verge of tears, acknowledging their hard work. Yet, jokingly, someone from the audience could have seem them as tears of vanity.

 (Granted, I am the first to remember that the day is about the graduates and not about the platform party and what we’re wearing. Luckily, we if nothing else, can provide some amusement for the audience to get through the longer speeches.)

Each university has its own fashion statement, from colour and material of the robe, to the hood, and often a much dreaded hat. Tradition is great and all, but shouldn’t it get refreshed at least once a century?

Perhaps my favourite moment of the convocation is the graduates’ hat toss acknowledging that one part of their journey is over. Seeing my puffy doctoral hat, you might also understand why I’d like to toss it. Yet I earned it, and I love it like you’d love a sibling who taunted you for a large part of your life.

The more cynical side of me says that the hat is less for tradition and more for a humbling effect. Earning a terminal degree is a significant achievement, but you can’t feel overly confident when wearing such an outlandish hat. It may be like Stan Lee reminding us: “With great power there must also come great responsibility!”

Overall, the regalia truly is awesome, from all black robes with coloured hoods, to more colourful robes with velvet bands on the sleeves or fur trim. Most of us take a grass is greener approach and seem to prefer someone else’s attire. Perhaps theirs are less hot, less choking, less “meh.” Being practical, I envied those with robes equipped with pockets, for somewhere to store car keys and a wallet.

After further research into academic hoods, historically, they had several uses including “a bag in which alms could be collected,” which makes perfect sense, when paired with the saying: “Alms for the poor.” (If you paid for your own education, you know of what I speak and you don’t need a funny hat to prove it). Unfortunately, my hood is not a handy bag for carrying alms, nor my car keys. It is simply a beautiful royal blue satin decoration which hangs from my neck, like a regal boa constrictor.

My colleague has a beautiful light grey robe, which can’t possibly attract and retain as much heat as my black one. Hers is also adorned with a pattern of red roses, like a stunning Japanese geisha; whereas mine breaks the fashion faux pas of “blue and green must never be seen.” Yet, I love my regalia and am proud to don it (especially as I am good with not taking myself too seriously).

Some schools have however figured out that branding and incentives matter. In Finland, when you get your doctorate, you get a sword! The sword symbolizes truth, perhaps cutting through all the crap? Regardless, it is much cooler looking than a puffy hat. (And let’s face it, even if they also have to wear a hat, who’s going to mock you if you are brandishing a sword?)

A sword also looks better on your wall. (My hat is hidden in the bottom of a garment bag.) A sword would also be more useful in a home invasion. (Though if I wore my hat to bed it might be enough to frighten off invaders.)

It was my sister who enlightened me to the sword for doctors on Facebook. She parried back with “Defend your thesis!!! En garde!” Granted we aren’t awarded the hat, nor the sword until after our defence, but the idea is grand.

The message is clear students, the higher you go, the more embarrassing the attire. Will our graduates want to continue their learning journey if this is the pinnacle of achievement? One can but hope, so that we have more regalia to “admire” at future convocations.

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