“First You Were Graduands…” | Graduate Diaries

“…now you are graduates!”

So echoed the words of Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea CBE, DL, chancellor of The University of Birmingham.

The surrounding crowd errupted in applause. We cheered. We celebrated our success. We had a goddamn-good reason to: on the 9th July, 2018, the Chancellor conferred onto graduands their degrees. That day, I walked away from the Aston Webb Building with a 2:1 in English and History, BA (Hons.). Fellow graduands fared similarly, having all been based in the College of Arts and Law. There were students studying English Literature, American and Canadian Studies, Liberal Arts, and all manner of thoroughly unemployable degrees (my own included).

So many familiar faces strolled down the isle that day. My brain flared with recognition as Lord Bilimoria welcomed them into his cool embrace (just a handshake; no on-stage funny buisness ). Whether they were firm friends, acquaintances, or just those so-called ‘randomers’ I glimpsed in Freshers’ Week of First Year, and now nod and smile at while walking down the University’s halls, there was something incredibly special about seeing their grand accomplishments.

And what an achievement it was. In fact, it’s quite possibly the greatest achievement of my life so far. It’s such an achievement that I wanted to record my thoughts, feelings and actions made on that day. I wanted to chronicle my graduation, from the rushed half-Windsor knot in the morning to my definitely-not-rare steak in the evening.

Knot My Tie

I love ties.

I love suits.

I loved my graduation robes.

What I did not love was being outside in 30-degree heat under four layers, without the sun’s promise of decent photos. To make up for this travesty, I donned an outfit that would take the breath away from the 299 other graduands who lined the halls.

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It was a light blue suit, to match the electric blue of my robes’ hood. A paisley tie, patterned with blue and gold and topped-off with a suitable clip, lined the middle of my chest, rear-ended by matching paisley cufflinks. A brown belt – coordinated with the brogues on my feet – adorned my waist. My only mistake? A watch with a black band, clashing with the blue-gold-brown aesthetic.

My brother donned a three-piece, too, but one in black. He refused to take my advice on leaving the bottom buttons undone but, thankfully, that did not detract from the spectacular day that was to be had.

My mother? A light blue, florally-patterned dress – matching her second-born son. Never in my life have I heard of a woman choosing to coordinate with a man’s outfit; what a welcome change! My Gran’s outfit, on the other hand, was a lovely white number – topped-off with a Dragonfly pin (her favourite animal, for such a special occasion).

Meanwhile, my dad stuck to a short-sleeved shirt and smart trousers. As the father of a graduand, he needn’t worry about looking the most dapper in the room, and dressed according to the heat. I really can’t blame him. While I sweated out an entire bucket from just my forehead, he sat gracefully in the little breeze the wind would spare us.

An hour out of our lives was the cost of the journey to Birmingham on the motorway. Before I knew it, I’d received tickets to the ceremony and my robes, lost a litre in water through my sweat glands, and had taken about as many photos as years I’ve been alive (though in hindsight, 21 pictures doesn’t really seem like an awful lot). The professional photos had been taken (at an extortionate price, might I add), and I was finally seated in the Great Hall.

“Be Our Guest; Be Our Guest”

“…Put our service to the test.”

How I wish the Chancellor had opened with that song and dance number.

Instead, he declared the congregations opened, welcoming each department of students up the stairs. Lord Bilimoria’s subsequent speech took the opportunity to thank us: for having such a keen dedication to our work ethic. He thanked the University: for being such a good and noble institution. He thanked families and friends; that was a particularly sweet moment. Without my family’s support, I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on at University, and encouraging graduates to applaud their efforts was a nice touch.

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But then he thanked himself.

That was quite weird.

Did you know that he founded Cobra? Did you know that he’s a business entrepreneur? Did you know that his daughter’s in a crticially-ill state in a hospital when she was supposed to be coming home from America (thoughts and prayers en route)? Did you know that his son is a philosopher, coming out with lines like “Dad, you must live your life as if you were going to die tomorrow”? I understand the purpose of these anecdotes – it makes the Chancellor more down-to-Earth, more like one of us. It makes his story a personal journey towards triumph, fraught with struggles.

But it was still quite weird.

When the Chancellor had completed his degree in self-aggrandisement, we were asked to the front again. I know that might not seem daunting at all – and it wasn’t – but when you’ve not had the chance to rehearse a ceremony, and are expected to ask “how high?” when someone says “jump!”, the whole process can become pretty confusing. Nonetheless, we were invited to walk down the isle once again, out through the grand front doors, and under the University’s Clock Tower, which we lovingly refer to as Old Joe, after the Uni’s first architect, Joseph Chamberlain.

After our final photo together as a large cohort, we were dismissed. We’d finished. The ceremony was over. Of course, me being me, I missed the free bubbly that they had on offer by taking too many photos, but by this point, I really didn’t care. It was only alcohol. As a now-ex-student, I was no longer expected to rely on alcohol to feel good. I walked back to our car a happy man, because I’d graduated.

We picked up a pub meal – something quick, because it was late – wherein I chowed-down on a mixed grill. The flat iron steak – allegedly rare – was far closer to medium, but I really did not care, because I’d graduated.

And when the car had safely pulled onto our drive, my family quickly escaped from their tight, very flattering, outfits to get some air. I stayed in my suit until going to bed a few hours later. I really did not care about the gross humidity in the air, or the fact that our house’s windows being shut-up all day left it overwhelmingly stuffy.

I didn’t care about any of that, because – look at me: I’m now a graduate – University of Birmingham alumnus. And the world is mine for the taking.

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