Archive for May, 2007

Columbia Commencement Ceremony

So, let’s pretend that it’s not true that I haven’t really posted here in three months. This involves not writing about such things as my winning the Novice Barbershop Quartet contest in late February, my actually earning money by singing, or about two trips to Germany, etc., but it will simplify things.

In the past few days, Columbia has been a sea of light blue. Light blue #75B2DD is the color of Columbia University (how cool is it that there’s even a Wikipedia page about it?), and the entire university has been working up to tomorrow’s commencement ceremony, which in a strange inversion of terminology celebrates the graduation of the current class of students. And so thousands of students have been running around campus in their blue gowns and hats (see a close-up here), and there are flags and banners everywhere. The university does its best to look pretty, and the weather helps (constant sunshine and temperatures in the high 20s).

I really like the atmosphere that surrounds this whole commencement thing. Yesterday I caught some speeches for the graduates of the Engineering school, and the speakers congratulated them on graduating from one of the finest universities in the world, in the greatest city in the world, and from an engineering program that goes back to 1753 and produced alumni that invented this and this and that. Very nice, and it must be impossible not to leave this ceremony as a student (or parent) with a thoroughly warmed heart, and feeling proud of one’s achievement and membership in such a cool group. I envy them, especially given that my Master’s graduation ceremony was totally lame, and I just went to pick up my PhD certificate from the administrator’s office.

I am particularly fascinated by the academic robes. While my first reaction on seeing the procession of graduating students in gowns was “Hogwarts!”, now that I’m more used to them, I can see them as an element that adds some extra dignity to the whole procedure. I read up on the academic dress code on Wikipedia, and it turns out that you can read a lot of information from a gown:

  • The silk lining in the hood is the color of the school that graduates you — except that some extra cool universities, including Columbia, just go all the way and color the entire gown. I also saw a guy walking around in a very intensely purple doctoral gown today; perhaps he’s from some other Ivy League school with that color (Harvard Crimson?).
  • The velvet lining in the hood is the color of your discipline.
  • As you progress through the academic degrees (bachelor / master / PhD), you add extra inches to the width of the velvet lining and extra feet to the length of the hood. Doctors are also entitled to wear three velvet stripes on each sleeve, and at Columbia get to wear a different kind of hat.

All this makes me wonder: If I ever end up having to wear academic regalia (say, I’m on the committee of some student in a country that still uses them), what would I do? After all, Germany abolished the use of academic gowns in 1968. Well, if I understand the Wikipedia article correctly, my alma mater must have had their own academic regalia before 1968, given that they were founded before that year (even if it was only 1945 or some such). So the historically most correct solution would be to find out what they looked like and then try to reconstruct that. Failing that, I could still try to adapt, say, a standard gown of whatever hypothetical place we’re talking about, and then add an orange velvet lining for computer science and a silk lining in whatever the color of my school is. This should be easier to figure out; I just hope it’s not that lame blue that the logo is in.

Anyway. Tomorrow morning I’ll have a quick look at the final commencement ceremony and then try to find a way to get to my office despite some 100.000 students and relatives celebrating in the quad. Let’s see how that goes; perhaps I’ll get around to taking some pictures.


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