Warning (2019-02-16): This post was written a few days after I graduated from University. I felt very let down by the institution and I was resentful. This post may come off as a rant, which in part, it was. The post details my reasons for not attending my University graduation ceremony, and how I beat the system and found a third way that gave me the best of both worlds. I decided to hold off posting it for six months or so, so that I could come back with some distance to the event and see if I still believed the text written here. I do, so I see no reason not to publish this. Click here to skip the rant and jump to the feel-good pictures.
I hadn’t seen or heard good things about the University graduation ceremony.
My perception of the event had been that it was more for the parents than for the students. I had seen some parts of the graduation ceremony for the older students during the summer after my first year of University, and all I saw was mothers preening over awkward-looking young adults dressed in their ridiculous-looking graduation costumes, whilst the father stood proudly to one side.
I had heard that you have to sit for an half hour or more in a stuffy room, listening to professors you’ve never met make speeches about how hard all of the students had worked, how they all had bright futures ahead of them, and how proud they should be. That you would then have to wait longer still as each student (from a cohort of hundreds!) would take their turn to shake the hand of an old-guy that they’d never met, who would present them with their certificate and then feign interest about their plans for the rest of their life.
So when it came time for to decide if I wanted to attend - several months before the event would take place and waaay before I even knew what result I was going to get - I decided “Fuck this, I’m not going.”
The Reasons Not To Go
The Institution of my University hadn’t been kind to me during my time studying. It felt like having another neglectful parent. So when I received my invitation to attend the graduation ceremony, 19th July 2018, I balked.
The Institution hadn’t cared when many members of our class, myself included, went to them to complain about a lecturer who was wasn’t doing their job properly. They ignored us and essentially told us that we were just students and had no right to complain. A senior member of staff told me that if I didn’t like it, I should just drop out. It didn’t matter to them that the lecturer turned up late to almost every session, assigned part of our grade based on attendance (against the university’s regulation), kept changing the due dates of our coursework, and promised us that we wouldn’t have an exam only to do a U-turn half way through the term. None of that mattered. We were just the students.
The Institution hadn’t cared when I went to them a year earlier to tell them that my performance had suffered greatly because my personal life was incredibly disrupted, that I had lost two of my grandparents, and that I was suffering from depression. Individual members of staff cared and tried to give me the help I needed, but not The Institution. The Institution essentially told me that my problems were my own and that I would receive no help nor waiver from them, which was especially bitter when I knew a friend of mine had received far more time than he needed for comparatively minor reasons.
I had become incredibly jaded towards University.
In the months after I had recovered from depression, I felt like I had been a piece of cookie dough going through an industrial bakery, but some uncalibrated machine had caused me to become misshapen. The next machine hadn’t cared that I had become misaligned and folded over onto myself; it didn’t care that I was unsuitable for the normal procedure to shape cookie dough. I had my own individual shape, position, and proportions now, and I needed a little bit of time and care to straighten out and get into a better position; otherwise, I would miss out on my potential of becoming a first class cookie. The machine didn’t give me any of that equalising attention; it just stamped me with the cookie cutter. It didn’t notice the big chunks of batter that it had cut off on every side when it stamped me so carelessly, and I was frustrated that so much of my potential material had been left behind on that conveyor belt.
I didn’t know then that I had been able to push through the rest of the manufacturing process, and that by some fluke of hard work and good luck had been able to mitigate the issues and succeed even with those pieces of dough missing. I didn’t know that at all; I felt like I would be turning up to the bake sale as a disfigured cookie that had missed out on the potential to be a perfect ones. This metaphor is becoming unwieldy now - so I’ll put it in plain English. I had found University fairly easy before my spell with depression and I was a sure-fire candidate for a First Class Honours; afterwards, I was left broken and the task looked impossible and insurmountable, and I didn’t want to turn up to a graduation ceremony to receive a grade that I knew didn’t represent my ability.
The logistics of how the event would even work was a mess for me to consider. You are only allowed to bring two guests, and I had no way of knowing how to choose. My family is a tangle web of dysfunctional relationships. I wouldn’t want to bring my mother and father - they hate each other and historically fight at every opportunity. If I brought one set of parent and step parent, it wouldn’t be fair on the other and the ones I didn’t bring would probably hold a grudge. I considered bringing just my siblings, but with my sister having a toddler that seemed impossible, and my child brother probably wouldn’t appreciate it much even if my mother did give him permission to go. It would basically had been impossible to choose, so I felt encouraged not to go at all. The only consolation I had was that I knew that my father was like me and wouldn’t want to spend forever watching everyone else during the ceremony, and he so much as told me that seeing the ceremony wouldn’t mean much to him if it didn’t mean anything to me.
I especially didn’t want to pay to buy a ticket and rent a set of robes to participate. The University had taken enough of my money by that point, and I’d had to spend the last year hardcore budgeting on a negative bank balance, living with minimal extravagances. The flowery language they used in their invitation actually offended me. They didn’t care about me during my time here, so why are they caring about my departure? Oh, of course - it’s the last chance they’ll get to extract a last little bit of money from me and my family. I didn’t even want to wear the robe - I’d have spent the last four years looking as scruffy and dishevelled as I could get away with, and I wasn’t about to change that.
I made the decision. I wouldn’t attend. I had a few regrets of course - it would be a last chance to spend with my University friends as a group. I would be letting down my best friend because he wouldn’t be able to get a proper picture with me. And I wouldn’t get to be in the final group picture of my cohort.
I made my decision and my decision was final. I would pick up my certificate from the student office or have it mailed to me, but I would not attend in person.
A Third Way
I hadn’t know when I made that decision that I would still be in Southampton at the time of the graduation ceremony. I didn’t know that I would temporarily move in my professor so that I could continue working on a research paper; I thought that by the start of July that I would be working from my father’s home in the Midlands.
As it became apparent that I would be in the city at the appropriate time, I realised that I could ‘attend’ the graduation ceremony without actually attending, and hopefully cheat the system and get all of the benefits without my perceived downsides. I asked my professor if I could have some time off on that day, and she agreed.
I dressed up relatively smart by wearing a black shirt, and I even re-shined my shoes. I got to meet up with my friends (the first time since our exams EDIT 2019-02-16: and sadly I haven’t been able to meet up with them since) and we all hugged it out and congratulated each other. A few students had done their final semester internationally and we hadn’t seen them for six months, so that was nice too. One of my friends was fairly sad because he didn’t get the grade he wanted, so I did my best to console him.
Seeing some of my friend’s parents was quite funny. It was my first time meeting some of them, and I liked seeing where my friends came from. With some friends, it was incredibly obvious whose parent was whose, whilst with others, meeting the parent explained some aspect of the friend.
Eventually it was time for everyone to go to the ceremony, so I went back to work but met up with them all again later when they all came out. They all got ushered over to the stands to have a photo taken. You know - the type of photo where everybody stands on stairs in height order?
I wanted to be in the photo - I obviously wasn’t wearing the right outfit, but I convinced the photographer that I actually was graduating by flashing my degree certificate and he let me through. I’m pretty tall - but not the tallest - so I stood in the top row a few people away from the centre. They take a few different photos - one where everybody is standing normally, one where everyone is ‘posing’ as if they are about to throw their mortarboards - and a final photo where everybody has thrown their mortarboards. I didn’t have a mortarboard, so I just did this face in the last two: Sadly, I don’t have a copy of the photo as it’s just yet another way to leech money from you, but at least I’ll be in the photos for others to remember me fondly.