I spent today ushering at two of our graduation ceremonies. I always love taking part in graduation – all those happy students and proud parents remind you what working at the university is really all about. I always feel myself swelling up with pride as I watch the students cross the stage to receive their degrees, especially now that I’ve worked at the university long enough that I’m seeing students that I remember as scared little first years graduating with Masters or PhDs. Even though I’m just a lowly secretary, I’m still a small cog in the machine that got them to today.
And to see all the pomp and ceremony is inspiring too. For a couple of days business models and corporate practices are set aside to go back to the old traditions. Staff and students don gowns that have their origin in medieval times, and the form of the ceremony echoes that of the first “modern” universities in Cambridge and Oxford. It’s a reminder that a university is something special, it’s not just another business out to make a profit.
And although I’m not usually a patriotic sort of person, I’ll admit hearing the national anthem sung by all those people brings a lump to my throat. It’s a pity it’s not sung more often, really. Interestingly, I noticed a difference this year. We always sing one verse in English and one in Maori, and normally everyone sings the English verse loudly, and sort of mumble along to the Maori one, only gaining confidence for the last line (“Aotearoa”), which everyone knows. But this year, at least in the area where I was standing, the Maori verse was being sung just as loudly and confidently as the English. Most of the people were reading the words off the big screen or from their programmes, of course, but there didn’t seem to be the “this is too hard, I’ll just hum along” feel you normally get. Could we finally be becoming a bicultural nation?
Of course, then the Chancellor had to spoil it. He spoke a few words of Maori at the beginning of his welcome speech, and he had the worst pronunciation I’ve ever heard! I’m not normally one to criticise people’s pronunciation of Maori, because mine is embarrassingly bad, but I reckon I could have done a million times better than him. It went along the lines of (cover your ears, Otakuu, before I murder your language) “Now my highry my. Ten a co toe car tour.” It was cringeworthy for my pakeha ears – I’d hate to think what the Maori staff and students and their families thought. Very embarrassing.
But other than that, I’ve still got a happy glow of pride from the day. Sometimes I really like working for a university.
(PS. Please keep all comments to this entry private. I don’t want my place of work to become public knowledge. Thanks!)