Firstly, when coming back to Stuart Street after that intensive afternoon of graduation delights on 15 May, I started to ask myself why on earth I had not observed this sequence of ceremonies, when reading the campus’ calendar of events the week before. A brief glance at internet resolved the riddle: all of that weekend, as well as of the following week, meetings, called COMMENCEMENT CEREMONIES, were scheduled, which I earlier had interpreted as meetings with prospective students to celebrate their forthcoming enrolment at campus. Little did I suspect that “Commencement” was the UCB secret code for “Graduation”, in line with good old tradition in revered academia to invent fancy and counter-intuitive words for this final ceremony. For instance, at the London School of Economics, another revered institution, the graduation ceremony, which I had the privilege of attending last year, is called “Presentation”!
Secondly, how is it possible to present graduation diplomas in a grand ceremony to students even before the final examinations have been graded and it is assured that students actually have graduated? The answer to this one will have to wait a little while longer.
Now armed with a better understanding of the schedule of graduation events I saw, on the calendar, that a gathering called “Commencement Convocation” was scheduled for the following Sunday, in a cosy sounding edifice called Haas Pavilion. When I looked at the campus map I realised that I knew this building well, albeit under another name, “Harmon Gym”. As student in the ‘seventies, I had passed through its entrance all working days at lunch time to access the swimming pools. So I decided on the spot to participate in that interesting sounding meeting.
As I recalled the building, it had a very impressive entrance with high portals and pronounced reliefs, showing muscular athletes of various disciplines, in a style common to sports palaces built in the ‘thirties. When going to my swimming leisure, I usually took to the left after entering the lofty arches, knowing that the main construction to the right contained various halls for gymnastics and ball games, such as basketball. So I expected the ceremony to take place in one of these larger halls, with room for maybe a hundred graduates and twice as many parents.
But wait! We have still some unfinished business to attend to. Don’t go away after having savoured the potpourri. There is more to come after the pictures!
Another peculiarity in the American graduation system, as practised in Berkeley at least, is that students can participate in more than one ceremony. Typically, each department, program and school would hold its own ceremony, as we saw in the case of the School of Information. In addition, most of them, at least the seniors, participate also in the general Convocation, which we had the pleasure of experiencing in the present post.
Did I say that Berkeley students could participate in up to two graduation ceremonies? This is not all! You may recall the story of the Latin party, with Mariachi music and rattles, which we met in the second to last post (“Happy Ending ...”). The day after the general convocation ceremony I strolled into the César Chavez Centre to talk to Mrs. Lupe Gallegos-Diaz, Director of Chicano/Latino Affairs at UCB. To my surprise she informed me that I had missed the single most exotic event during the convocation week: the Chicano/Litano graduation ceremony! What I had thought to be informal post-ceremonial activities, when I saw the noisy Latinos on 15 May late afternoon, was actually the run-up to yet another graduation ceremony, scheduled at the Greek Theatre later that evening. So, not only can a student be graduated at his department and through the general convocation, he also can be graduated as Member of his ethnical group. This we can only call “Embarras de Richesse” great style à la Berkeley. Happy are the parents indeed, who can fête their off-springs in up to three great ceremonies!