Tradition lives on at Cambridge University
By Kofi Ayim
The city of Cambridge in the United Kingdom was founded in the 1st century and the University of Cambridge in 1208. The city of 128,500 residents may have seen geometric progression in development but the same cannot be said of the 800 plus year school, especially when it comes to their graduation ceremony. At graduation time (known at Cambridge as Congregation) – which seems to be year round for the thirty three colleges that make up Cambridge University, the city is bustling with excitement. Families fly in from all over the world and experience one of the oldest universities in the world. Amenities during Congregation are a reflection of the UK market – a 10 by 8 hotel room, with a 6 by 4 bed and a shower size that makes Rikers Island Correction bathroom an envy runs for a minimum of $130.00 and up to about $200 per night!
Each degree awarded must be approved by the Senate House, the governing body of the University. The college of the graduand (graduate) must present the graduating student to the Senate House to be evaluated and considered for acceptance of degree conferment on the basis of both moral and intellectual achievement.
The graduands observe a strict code of attire (gowns, hoods, etc) otherwise known in Ghana parlance as Academic Pomposity. The maximum allowable shoe heel is no more than 2.5 inches. Other rules dictate color, dress length and collar type. Each graduand is thoroughly screened and checked to conform to the prescribed parameters of dressing. Family and friends are escorted into the Senate House and are seated on wooden benches. The conferrer of degrees ( Vice Chancellor or a Deputy) is ushered into the Hall, in a procession led by two Esquire Bedels bearing maces and bows before the conferrer seated in a Chair in front of the dais. Two Proctors sit left to the Conferrer, and two Pro- Proctors stand east to the seated Proctors. As soon as the Congregation is called to begin, a hush comes over the entire space. There is complete silence – it is evident something interesting is about to happen. As each College presents its graduands through a Praelector, greetings in Latin are given to the Vice Chancellor and the University. Each statement is preceded by removing the ceremonial cap and with a bow. The caps are diverse and status-oriented. After this greeting, the graduands step forward. A presentation in Latin is made by the Praelector to the Conferrer after which a candidate’s name is called by an Esquire Bedel. The graduand kneels – PhDs and Bachelors alike – before the Conferrer with clasped hands in a prayerful mode. The Conferrer encloses her two hands around the graduands clasped hands and recites statements in Latin, most of which ended with ” in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti (in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit).” The new graduate (now officially a member of the Senate House, and thus, the University) rises, bows to the Conferrer and retires. As they walk out, the degree, a humble piece of 8.5×11 paper, is handed to them. At the end of it all, an Esquire Bedel crows “Magistri” (Masters) and all stand. The Conferrer announces “we dissolve this Congregation” and in a procession as before, everyone leaves the Hall.
For a first time visitor to this City-university enclave, it’s difficult to draw the boundaries between the bustling life of academic activities, and a relatively quiet but expensive city. One thing is for sure, the traditions of the University will live on for centuries to come – it’s hard to change 800 year old habits, no matter how quirky they may seem.