Summary: Graduation is a joyous time for everyone well nearly everyone.... Description: Graduation day should be a joyous and delightful occasion for everyone – successful students, committed teachers and proud parents and relations. A day of total celebration, but spare a thought for the poor Dean or Head of School. Some years ago it was my responsibility and I found it one of the more stressful events of my life. For the two weeks prior to the day I was prone to sleepless nights and periodic episodes of breaking out in a cold sweat. I was frequently encountered wandering down corridors muttering to myself and my husband complained I keep him awake with continuous chanting. Why should this be? Was the stress of one more reorganisation finally sending me over the edge; was it the acute paranoia of the annual Faculty budget challenge meeting? Would it have been something of such little moment. As Head of a Medical School there is nothing more touching and satisfying moment then when students you have known for 5 years stand and repeat the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath after receiving their degrees. Why then should I have viewed the occasion with should concern and dread. The answer was simple – will I get all the names pronounced correctly.

Two weeks before the event a provisional list of graduands would land on my desk. No simple list of John Smiths and Mary Browns this; globalisation and migration together with a simple desire for modernity had changed this inventory in to something that resembles the roll call at the United Nations. For the rest of the year I was proud of the diversity that our School attracted. I revelled in the richness and vibrancy this cultural mix brought to my work but the fear of giving offence was great. As a three year old I still remember the expectation and anticipation when my mother wrote into a national radio station for a record request for my birthday. Sadly I also remember the bitter disappointment when the announcer mispronounced my, then, slightly unusually first name. I still can’t hear Max Bygraves singing ‘You’re a pink tooth brush’ without a wave of resentment and regret at the insensitivity of some, now long dead, announcer (maybe it’s not too late for counselling).

The result of this life scarring experience was that I needed to immediately surround myself with a group of multilingual staff members to help me with the varied pronunciations. ‘You should know your students better than this,’ I hear you cry but undergraduate year sizes of 250 plus another 80 or so postgraduates coupled with a not inconsiderable degree of dyslexia makes this impossible. Lists of phonetic pronunciations were produced and revised. Spare moments were spend practising names in a chanting singsong fashion to make it easier (hence the mutterings in corridors). The spectre of a (now) retired Dean who announced all students called Singh as ‘Singe’ caused me to wake from sleep drenched in sweat.

Even worse the graduation ceremony is no longer a brief human memory which is pleasant but who’s details dim with the passage of time. No, it is now not only the subject of every parental digital camera but a business opportunity for the University and from the initial organ strains announcing the entry of the mace bearer and academic entourage to the last departing footstep the whole event is recorded. I now see myself in full robed splendour as soon as I exit the graduation hall. As a consequence any falter or erroneous epithet is recorded for prosperity and no doubt played endlessly to moans of anguish and groans of disappointment in family homes all over the world.

So finally graduation day would dawn, the weather was perfect. Hundreds of happy students don the fancy dress; the air is filled with the click of innumerable digital cameras wielded by proud and smiling parents. Vainly I would try to make my head gear to look less like Thomas a Beckett (after he was murdered). I would be shepherded in line behind sundry other academics in glorious garish garb. A member of the University secretariat approaches with a list of graduands. Thank you I say I have my own specially annotated copy – no, no she replies the order of ceremony has changed, some individuals are no-longer attending (damn, all that practising for nothing) but worse, some new ones are now attending mainly eastern Europeans (7 consonants and no vowels) as are a group of Sri Lankans each with surnames names of three inches in length. I take a deep breath, the organ swells, the entourage moves forward and we are off……………..

Many things I regret having to give up with the passage of time and the change of roles I can honestly say this was not one of them.


Ps to the family who phoned before the event to make sure I knew their son was called Dafydd and not David thanks but that was the least of my worries.