I graduated this week

Backward compatibility

I'm getting hit by a tube
I'm getting hit by a tube

I like graduation ceremonies. Don’t get me wrong—hearing the names of a couple hundred students read in order of academic programme isn’t my idea of a wild party, but I’m glad such things exist. There’s a couple things that I like about graduations.

Convocation is the ultimate example of backward compatibility. There’s something positively medieval about them. As the Principal said, the tradition of graduation ceremonies at McGill predates Canadian Confederation. If a person from even ten centuries ago was magically transported to Place-des-Arts on the morning of November 23rd, 2011, that person would probably be able to recognise what is going on, just by seeing all these acamedics in their robes and the giving of certificates.

When I graduated from Western, the procession of professors, chancellors, etc was preceded by a guy carrying a big gold mace. Maces are symbols of power, and historically speaking, they were there to serve the purpose of keeping everyone in line, in case the meeting got out of hand. And at some point in history, someone thought, “Carrying around an implement for bludgeoning rabble-rousers is something that we have to keep doing forever. Just in case.”

When I got the actual paper with my degree printed on it, I discovered that it was all written in Latin. According to the paper, I have a “Magistrum Artium” now. I’m going to take a picture of my degree and get my little sister (whose Latin is much better than mine) to read it at Christmas break.

At McGill by tradition, undergrads are tapped on the head by an academic cap as they graduate. Grad students used to have their hands shaken by the Chancellor, however in the wake of the Swine Flu scare, hand-shaking fell out of fashion. (Not based on any evidence, mind you—Swine Flu is not transmitted by hand-to-hand contact.) Hence, the Chancellor hits graduate students with a tube as they pass him on the stage.

That was the weirdest thing. It was like a knighting (“I dub thee “Magistrum Artium”) except it would have been a whole lot awesomer if they had tapped me on the shoulder with the sword of Gryffindor or something. Actually, I’d settle for the sword of James McGill.

Academic regalia

Hood and robe for MA at McGill
Hood and robe for MA at McGill

What’s also fun (but expensive) is the academic regalia. This time, they let me keep the hat, at least!

I can wear it whenever I want to look smart and make people pay attention to my ideas.

Every programme/faculty/level of achievement has a different robe/hood/hat that they wear to graduate. For a MA at McGill, you get a black robe with funny sleeves that you can’t actually put your arms through, a mortar board and a baby blue hood that goes around the neck. In the attached photo, I’m trying to show what the hood looks like a bit. That’s the interesting part.

Not only do the students all wear different things, but because each professor wears the academic regalia of the school where she earned her PhD (not the school she works at), many professors will have different robes/hoods/hats. Some are boring, some are very eye-catching. The profs who did their PhD at McGill all have funny black McGill hats.

Framing my degree

I looked at the prices of the fancy “McGill” frames that were for sale just outside the theatre and asked them how much they cost. They said they were $200 apiece.

When I stopped laughing, I realised that they were serious and moved on.

Part of me wants to go out and find a “Dora the Explorer” frame for my degree. Something really tacky to keep it in, at least while I’m looking for a frame that won’t require another student loan for me to buy. The only problem with that is that if I do that as a joke while I’m looking for the “real frame,” it might become the “real frame.”

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

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