This piece was inspired when I read about some graduating students at local universities pulling “selfie” stunt on stage during their respective graduation ceremonies. This article was first published in Han Chiang News on June 02, 2015.
I read with much anguish and amusement recently about graduands of local public universities doing some antics such as taking a selfie while they were getting their testamurs on stage during their respective graduation ceremonies. A lot of debates have been generated in the press and in cyberspace over the “rights” of these students versus the “prerogative” of their university to take disciplinary actions on these “rogue” graduands. However, I think all these debate and discussions have missed a crucial point: that the “rogue” students have disrupted the proceeding of one of the most important academic rites of passage called the graduation ceremony. Their university owes it to the rest of the graduands (and more importantly, their families and sponsors) to ensure that this rite of passage, the most solemn of all academic ceremonies is carried out in accordance to the tradition, custom and ritual befitting their alma mater.
My first experience with a university graduation ceremony was in the late summer of 1983 when my elder sister graduated with a degree of Bachelor Pharmacy (Hons) from the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (which has since merged with University College Cardiff in 1988 and known as Cardiff University today). There we were, my late parents and I sitting in a great hall in Cardiff, Wales, as guests of my sister. The entire proceeding was conducted in Welsh, and rightly so as it was a Welsh university that my sister had attended. But, we had the entire proceeding translated in English for us in the graduation booklet so that we could be a part of this important rite of passage for my sister.
We could follow everything that went on during this graduation ceremony, even though not a single English word was uttered. The graduation ceremony was steeped in tradition and I remember watching my sister went up the stage, bowed to the Vice-Chancellor and then bowed to the President of the Guild of Graduates, who in turn took off his mortar board and formally welcomed her to the Guild. The English text in the graduation booklet stated that this would be the crucial step in the ceremony as a graduand can only be considered as a “graduate” after receiving the blessing and acceptance into the Guild by the President. Now, fast forward to 2015 and faced with these “rogue” graduands who disrupted the sanctity of a graduation ceremony. Do you not think that the rest of the graduands should have the right to have their rites of passage protected? Would it not be a waste of time if every graduand spends an extra 10 seconds to pose for a selfie / wefie?
No one with the right mind in Malaysia will think of taking a selfie if he/she is getting a prestigious award such as a “datukship” from HRH The Yang Dipertuan Agong. This is because we know that it is a great honour to be bestowed such an award and we need to show the greatest of respect to HRH during the ceremony. Yet many in the raging discussions advocated the freedom of expression to justify the actions of these “rogue” graduands.
What about a simple word, RESPECT for the institution and the leadership of these institutions for awarding an academic credential to a graduand? If a graduand cannot show the simplest form of respect for his own institution and the highest officials representing his institution, then IMHO, the said institution has every right to revoke the graduand’s academic credential or take other severe disciplinary action against him/her. When I saw photographs of some graduands of US universities wearing self-designed mortar boards with all sorts of ugly displays, it dawned on me that the founding Vice-Chancellor and the officials of my alma mater, The Queen’s University of Belfast must have had great collective foresights to do away with mortar boards altogether in our graduation ceremony!
(Featured photograph sourced from: http://i.huffpost.com/gadgets/slideshows/421528/slide_421528_5395340_free.jpg)