Saturday the 30th of June was our graduation for the R(D)SVS students! It was a gorgeously sunny day (perhaps a little too sunny to be wandering around town in a black dress, but I’m not going to complain or the British public will lynch me). And by total coincidence, it was also nine years since my graduation in 2009.
In the intervening nine years, the greatest innovation is by far the fact that the hoods now velcro on to the gowns – but apart from that, there was something that really stuck out to me about yesterday’s graduation. And to explain why I need to talk a little more about graduations.
When your staff come to your graduation, we tell the university what our most recent degree qualification was, and we are ushered into a side room with some lovely chaps who help us into our gowns (and explain the principle of the novel velcro to us). We ooh and covet the nicest robes (Napier’s nursing PhD is the winner for me so far), and start the traditional Glasgow vs Edinburgh rivalry (insert your local university rivalry as appropriate). We file into a room, where the senior officiant convenes a meeting of the Senatus Academicus and in all of our robes, we must all say that we agree to allow these students to graduate.
It’s a moment that we tease each other about, that we joke about, but it has to happen before anything goes any further. We walk through the halls in our order, and process into the hall in front of all your family and friends. We look for the people we know, we cannot keep our faces serious because the happiness is infectious. And then we get to watch you all be inducted into our family, for our family to join yours.
This was my first year processing as staff in McEwan Hall after its refurbishment. McEwan Hall’s dome boasts the inscription: Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding. Exalt her and she shall bring thee to honour. (Proverbs 4:7) There are gilded paintings of all the academic disciplines, and a shrine to Minerva. It truly is a stunningly beautiful building and if you ever have the chance to look inside, you should.
To me, McEwan Hall is sort of sacred. So too is Bute Hall, which I graduated in back in 2009. But I’ve been to graduations in theatres and in modern halls, and they’ve been sacred too. I cry at graduations because if I have a faith, it is in the human ability to pursue knowledge and understanding. I do exalt her.
And in this space yesterday, our veterinary graduates stood up to speak their oath in unison to the Vice President of the RCVS, Amanda Boag. And then Amanda addressed the graduates. In this sacred space, in front of begowned staff, in front of a hundred odd students who she had lead in their oaths, in front of their proud family and friends, in front of one of the people who invented REMLS (that’s a cool thing) . . . Amanda told a story about making a mistake.
Amanda spoke beautifully about failure, and mistakes, and highlighted to the students that they had just swore an oath to try, not an oath to be perfect. The veterinary industry has a lot of problems in the area of resilience, but I think it doesn’t often get enough praise for what it’s trying to do. I think the veterinary industry is having a better conversation about resilience than academia is.
I really hope our students listened to Amanda’s message yesterday, and I hope they remember it. And I want to thank Amanda and the RCVS for that speech. I am not a vet, but I needed to hear about mistakes in that hall, and in that time. It was the perfect place for it, and I am grateful.