Graduation is always a very special moment in the academic year and this year was no exception. It is wonderful to celebrate with a group of people that over the past three years you have come to love and respect. Each one has their own story; the personal mountains, stressful nights of worry, the struggles to understand ideas and concepts that, at first, seem so incomprehensible and alien, all those times of self-doubt, and times of sheer tiredness. Yesterday, each one had their own reason to be proud of what they achieved and it was a joy to celebrate it with them.
Gaining any degree is an achievement. However, what, for me, is such a privilege in working with theology and philosophy students is that for many of them this is far more than an academic journey. That is not to say that there is not a immense amount to learn and information to process. At Newman, we cover key theologians from antiquity to the present, learn AND apply philosophical and theological methodologies and systems of thought, address the main issues facing life in the contemporary world, as well as trying to understand the worlds of the past. The subjects sweep from global issues to individual personal reflection. All of this can be very demanding not just intellectually, but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually (I use that term in the widest sense). Over the last three years we have dug deep into their personal core values, got them to question the compasses they have trusted to guide their lives, looked deeply into the darkness of human nature and behaviour. We have all walked outside our comfort zones (lecturers included), learnt new things and challenged each other. We could only do that together; listening to each other, sharing, encouraging each other to find our voices, understanding and, above all, making each other brave. The class of 2017 excelled at doing all these.
Graduation day starts early and preparation begins as the dawn is slowly fading. As the skies slowly lightened, a large flock of rooks headed over the campus towards the city centre in a long smoky, raucous trail.
Most of the teaching staff are fortunate as we only have to turn up an hour or so before the start. Those who are working behind the scenes begin much earlier.
This is the reason why I love working at Newman and why it is such a special place. There can’t be many Vice Chancellors who travel to their graduation ceremonies by public transport!
Next to the room where the graduands put on their robes, the university staff also get robed… after lots of chatting… and cups of coffee…
Final instructions are given as we form in lines before processing into the main hall. There is always a little frisson of tension at this time. The fears of tripping up, going in the wrong direction, getting your robe caught in the furniture, etc. affect us all, they are not just the preserve of those graduating!
Platform ‘spy shot’ of the proceedings – in case of anyone in authority seeing this, please note that the theology department had no part in this and certainly does not condone such outrageous behaviour on the platform! Please direct your enquiries to the history department.
For me, the most moving element of the ceremony is the guard of honour. Teaching and support staff line each side of the corridor to give the graduates as they leave the hall a well deserved round of applause. After three years of what must seem like nit-picking and criticism, it is our chance to say “Well done. We think you are great and we’re proud of you.”
A few of the theology and philosophy graduates of 2017
Apologies to all the students I could not include here (and the couple that I didn’t get to see) – you are certainly not forgotten!