Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pride and prejudice

A sea of young heads, capped and full of knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm: it's a hopeful and reassuring sight, even if some of the higher science degrees and diplomas awarded yesterday by Auckland University were for research that was either so esoteric that the description seemed in another language, or so down-to-earth it was hard to get excited. Apples seemed to feature rather a lot; though the woman who got hers in "wine science" caused a ripple of enthusiasm amongst some of the audience.
It was a shame that the drought had broken so dramatically that the traditional parade of graduands through the central city was cancelled for only the third time in 80 years: it's always a lovely sight, the students so pleased and proud and endearingly self-conscious in their robes and hoods, the procession accompanied by a fluttering of equally pleased and proud parents. All so different from the last time I saw students on the streets en masse: at the beginning of the academic year in Evora, Portugal.
The young people parading then weren't pleased or proud, though the older students lording it over them were very smug and self-satisfied, as well as rather sadistic. It's tradition, it seems, to humiliate the new entry, so the black-robed third-years were herding the newbies round in groups, having made them dress up in embarrassing outfits, and stopping them periodically to make them chant or sing or do silly things. I suppose having had it all happen to them made it easy for the seniors to inflict it on the next intake, but I did feel sorry for the unhappy-looking victims, many of whom wouldn't have known anyone else and perhaps were in a city for the first time. It felt unkind, even though it was probably meant, in its distant origins, to instil a sense of solidarity amongst the first-years. It seemed mean-spirited, and out of place in a lovely city with an especially beautiful university.

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