To put it all in perspective, I had to wait over 60 years on this fair earth to attend my first convocation yesterday, though it was not mine, it was nevertheless a chance to absorb the moment when over 1200 students were awarded their doctorates, masters, baccalaureate and associate degrees at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.
So what about my own? It was June 1978, when I completed my degree, for a Bachelor of Science Degree with Honors in Economics & Accounting (double major) from the University of Bristol. As soon as my exams and classes were over, I flew back to Sri Lanka to work as an Audit Trainee, unpaid of course.
I did not have the funds to stay long enough to attend the degree awarding ceremony at the Convocation in Bristol, to collect my degree and wear the robe of a graduate and have my photo taken and framed at home, for all who come to see, as is common now. My degree certificate was sent in the mail to me.
Those reading this will find that very odd, as people in Sri Lanka (or so it seems to me) will do almost anything to have this big day recorded in history, most of whom have their parents attend, and have a photographer on hand, and in today’s world have FB also record it for friends and family to join in and congratulate.
My parents were also not in a position to fly out for the ceremony either, unlike many well to do parents today, and so I don’t have a picture of myself in my graduating robe and mortarboard to show off to any one! Fortunately, I don’t have children, who in today’s context will question why that was so.
I suppose that touch of modesty, where the importance was in achieving your goal, and not in having the record of the achievement in the form of a photograph, came from my upbringing too, where in our house there was never a photo of either of my parents at their graduation, nor have I ever asked them if they attended their convocations. My Dad got his degree in India from Madras Christian College, and my mother got her degree from the Colombo University, to which she cycled each day for classes from her home, not too far away.
I note all this in order that the reader appreciates that it is never too late to attend a convocation, even if it of others, where I don’t know anyone who received the degree. Thanks to a Professor of the University, with whom I am staying, that I had the opportunity of attending, so that I will briefly opine on my impression of the occasion. Even upon receiving my Chartered Accountants Qualification from the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) I never attended a ceremony conferring this qualification unlike now in Sri Lanka.
So let me opine on my visit today, at the University’s First National Bank Arena where it was held. It is a massive arena within the University, where the Red Wolves, the University Basketball Team play their home game and has seating on three sides of the rectangle. I am told it is normal procedure in all Colleges in the USA, so this description is for those who would like to know, and are curious.
This University like I believe most in the USA, hosts convocations three times in the year, this being the smallest, done in one morning session, while the Summer one has the largest number graduating and so is split into two sessions on the same day, so that half the faculties are done in the morning session and the other half in the afternoon.
There is no limit on the guests attending, and no passes are checked, but there is a security check for all entering the Arena including faculty, as standard practice.
The car park is well organized by the campus police and security to ensure smooth arrivals. On the appointed time, 10am the faculty stream in to take their seats nearest to the podium and there are 300+ tenured positions. Then the VC and Deans enter the podium with the VC acting as the MC also. The students in the colors of their faculties come in to take their places and are permitted an element of individuality, including varied mortar boards with their own special designs if they so wish.
After the speeches are over and the valedictorian’s speech on behalf of the graduating class is given, then the degree ceremony proper starts. The VC specifically encouraged the visitors to cheer their graduate when their names are called, and you can imagine that some bring many members of their families and shout loudest when their name is called. I noticed that as there were many African Americans receiving their degrees, and the loudest cheers came from their family members who were there to support their big day.
Everyone’s name was called, and each shook hands with their faculty head the VC, and had a photo taken with the VC and a separate photo in their regalis, once they descended the podium. Each graduate had a card with is name, type of degree and if it was Magna, Summa or Cum Laude, so that card is given to the person announcing their name, so it NEVER caused a confusion in names when the graduate is announced.
The PhD holders were the first to be awarded and they bend down to have their sponsor, their tutor of the dissertation who was on hand to put the cloak over their heads when their names are mentioned. Most PhD were for Education and Philosophy as Teachers aspire to Doctorates to further enhance their status, and have the time during their vacation breaks to study for higher degrees. It shows that teaching (Public Schools) is held in high regard in the USA.
I noticed another aspect where those in wheelchairs had a special place for them to watch the proceedings, showing the emphasis both on access to disabled, but also the facilities provided for them. I also noticed that all stairs in the Arena have rails in the flights of stairs to hold onto, so people who need assistance can hold onto, and I with crutches was able to climb without further assistance. I salute the USA for steps taken to accommodate the differently abled in all aspects of life.
People were very casually dressed in attending this convocation in line with the very informal dress code of people in the USA, the same attire they would wear to a ball game, or going shopping I guess! One thing that I felt was bad was that many people (about half of those attending) left before the formalities were over, which in total took only 2 hours from the 10am start to the noon finish, which was incredible, considering all the students names were mentioned, and they were greeted individually by the VC.
All students are automatically enrolled in the Alumni Association upon graduation and their first year dues are paid by the University. The Commencement Brochure/Booklet given free to all who attend is very detailed explaining all the process and what the various colors of the graduates are, and you identify their status.
After the event, all the students were invited to attend a reception with the faculty and the VC along with their parents, though very few availed themselves of this.
I noticed that there were many foreign students graduating too.
The business of education in the USA and it is definitely a business second only to Healthcare, is efficiently run, with the obtaining of qualifications, enabling people to have the minimum certification for entry into most employment. All students have to pay for their education with only a few obtaining full scholarships. The amount of assistance varies depending if they are in state or out of state students, and Overseas Students generally pay the most.
There are hundreds of private and public colleges all over the USA, and Federal Assistance has fallen, meaning states and private sources are needed to take up this shortfall in education, and it seems that there are increasing donations and funding for this amongst alumni and philanthropic bodies, and trusts.
Arkansas State University whose main campus is in Jonesboro and they have two subsidiary campuses, have 14,000 students and 1,500 faculty. So it is the largest employer in the city of Jonesboro.