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That's one graduation ceremony done, then. I could actually have attended three today, but I decided limits had to be drawn, so I'm just doing this morning and this evening, plus a garden party (= free strawberries) and an evening reception (= free wine).

The processing part of it all was lots of fun. There's a picture of a Queen's academic procession under the link, which gives an idea of the sort of thing involved. (And I note from that page that anyone mad enough to want to do so could actually watch me process in at the beginning of this evening's ceremony via a live web-cast). Walking across from the main University building to the graduation hall just felt like a jolly stroll, which I passed in chatting to a member of the Institute of Theology, but then we were filing into the hall itself, and suddenly there was an organ playing, and hundreds of people standing up to honour us, and we changed from ordinary people to symbolic representatives of the University bestowing the degrees. I shifted my posture from the customary sideways slouch to a suitably proud and erect bearing, and took up my institutional role.

As a graduate of Oxford University, I of course should be representing my alma mater as well by wearing the gown of the degree which they bestowed on me. Unfortunately, this proved to be impossible, since I don't own such a gown myself, and Queen's didn't have them available for hire either. Instead, then, I mounted the platform in a generic alternative: a standard black, billowy academic gown (think Snape, although it isn't actually floor-length like his). I am doing my bit to represent Oxford, however, by unnecessarily wearing sub-fusc. Here, I could wear anything I liked under the black gown, but I've elected to wear the black trousers, white blouse and black length of ribbon around my neck which I would be required to wear in a formal academic context in Oxford. So my gown may be generic, but my under-clothes are fully in keeping with Oxford requirements.

The ceremony itself was of course much like any other. Oxford ceremonies do stand out, and I presume Cambridge ones likewise, by dint of being in Latin, in a rather special setting (the Sheldonian Theatre) and having students presented in small groups by college, rather than in one long stream. But I've also attended ceremonies now at Bristol, Birmingham, Queen Mary University of London and now Queen's University Belfast, and I can tell you that they are all the same. A name is read, a person walks across the stage, you clap - again, and again, and again.

The interest lies in the occasional student who does or wears something to draw attention to themselves - like the chap today who leaped up and punched the air after he'd shaken the Vice-Chancellor's hand, winning himself a much longer than usual round of laughter and applause. And of course the people you know: the ones whom you're there to support. Four of my actual students graduated this morning, and I beamed proudly for each one and gave them a special clap. Gloria Hunniford also received a degree honoris causa, which I intended to be terribly cynical about, but was in fact rather sweet to witness.

But, best of all, my head of department, Professor David Whitehead, was graduating today as a Doctor of Literature. He had no real need to do this of course - he's already been a Doctor of Philosophy for 30 years, and is also now a Professor and head of an academic department (OK, a very small one, but he is). But he found out that he could present himself for the degree by offering a portfolio of work to be assessed by the University, so he did, and was accepted for it. This meant for me that I sat on the stage, symbolically playing my part in bestowing an academic qualification on my boss. It's not often that you get to do that.

After the ceremony, I was waylaid by davesangel, who is just fresh back from Live 8. She had some work to do in the library, but shortly we will go for lunch together so I can hear all about it and see pictures. Then follows a hard afternoon of strawberries, sunshine and congratulating people who deserve it. Pity me! ;)

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