The Lost Feeling of Graduation

by Tejas Nair

I have been ceremoniously conferred an academic qualification twice; a diploma in 2012 and most recently a degree, both in the same sphere of Engineering. The feeling was great, of course, but there wasn’t much difference between the feelings when I walked out of my last board exam back in June and when I walked out last Tuesday with a degree certificate in my hand. Further, that walk out of the classroom after the exam was much more delightful than my graduation day, and there’s a reason behind that. Reasons, actually.

I do not know how graduation ceremonies unfold elsewhere in the world, so this is not a comparison quip from my part. This is just a first-hand experience of having graduated from an Indian varsity, Mumbai University, in 2016. However, this is definitely an article taking potshots at Mumbai’s various degree colleges which handed out degrees to their most valuable and loyal customers last week, on and around the 67th Republic Day of India. Having said that, this article is not exclusively about my college unless wherever remarked.

For starters, an amount ranging from INR 100 to INR 500 was collected from students for the graduation gown as rent. Other than the gaggle of people (who are the same students who were going to graduate in the first place, and some of whom are my now former classmates) who scrambled to cash in on this opportunity by urging the college administration to tie up with their known garment dealer so they could get a cut out of it, bad management at my college’s part was the biggest highlight. Some students, who were connected with the college’s administration, urged us students to fill a Google form while others suggested we call some random guy and register our names for the gown. While in my college we were asked to pay INR 300 for the gown as deposit with a promise of getting back half the amount on returning the dress, at colleges like K J Somaiya and Vidyalankar, students were charged a strict INR 200 without the give-and-take nonsense. Most of us paid the amount because we are sentimental people, we Indians. Wearing a graduation gown and photographing ourselves so that we can joke about framing it later during the dinner that night and eventually posting it on social media is a custom we have been unofficially following for years. So, yes, we paid the amount reluctantly and registered our names. I am assuming this had something to do (at least partially) with the people who chose to remain at home. But of course, I believed them when they said that their employers wouldn’t approve leave, in spite of the convocation being on a Republic Day or a weekend, or when they said they were holidaying at a hill station. Now that I have experienced the ceremony, I guess they are the smarter lot.

There was also some chatter about the colour of hoods (violet), which didn’t look that good. At the end, however, everyone thanked goodness that the management at least hadn’t selected that grotesque red-coloured gowns like the Nerul-based college RAIT had.

Moving forward, now this is focusing only on my college because commenting on something that I haven’t seen or experienced goes against the policies of this blog. I have only so much info about the ceremonies that took place in other colleges, and most of my friends tend to exaggerate without even realizing. The reporting time set by my college was 11 AM, and at around that time, the main verandah in front of the office was an example of total chaos. Students from different Engineering streams stood there with no discipline at all. Not that discipline was something to be expected from them, but the thought that these misbehaving people, all in their early twenties, were going to be awarded one of the world’s popular degrees was somewhat disturbing. Moments later I joined my group of friends, and soon I was one of them, chatting and shaking hands with my classmates and other colleagues like we had gathered for a party where people with jobs threw their weight about around people without them. Of course, people pursuing Masters were not going to jump into a flight for this mockery of an event. Even the jet lag from that flight wouldn’t be worth of attending the ceremony.

The second biggest highlight of that day was the unavailability of a large auditorium which could seat all of those who were going to graduate (sans the smarter people who chose to stay at home). My college has a tiny seminar hall with a capacity of hundred or so people, and to everyone’s dismay, the convocation ceremony took place in it. This is how it worked: Because there are only so few students in the rare Engineering stream of Printing and Packaging Technology (PPT), they were sent inside first. The group of students bought their academicals and marched into the tiny room. After the ceremony, these students were asked to expedite their actions of clicking photos and selfies and returning the gowns because it was the time of the IT stream to go inside, and there are only a limited number of gowns available. Since the PPT students were few in number, IT and Computer stream students didn’t have much problem. Things took an ugly turn when the beasts – Mechanical and EXTC stream students – entered the scene, and unfortunately, I was from one of them.

While me and my friends were lucky to get our regalia soon as we arrived, some of our classmates had to wait. But since there was another version of chaos brewing at the tiny room, only 10 students were allowed to enter its lobby at a time, which was exactly the point when I crossed my ‘graduation day’ threshold.

I wanted to see my friends and classmates and the people whom I care for receiving their degrees. I wanted to click pictures of them receiving their degrees. I wanted to be snapped sitting with hundreds of students in arranged rows by the college-appointed photographer. I wanted to listen to candid speeches by college toppers, wanted to see them posing with their overjoyed parents. I wanted to bring my parents, wanted to click pictures with them. I wanted to feel those moments, and what I really got was a certificate stashed into my hands by some aged guy (probably a professor) wearing a red robe whom I didn’t know and whom I (or any one of the rest of the nine people) wasn’t introduced to before (the PPT guys might know who he was), and clicked by a lazy photographer who was in a rush. The only good thing that happened in the tiny auditorium was the compering, which was carried out by a student who thankfully remarked the achievements of certain meritorious students as they stepped onto the dais.

Between receiving the degree and walking towards the exit door, I was sought and requested to leave the room right away by, at last count, three people. Like it would take me a trek to get out of that tiny, non-air-conditioned auditorium! Anyways, after leaving the room, I was stopped by a volunteer and requested to snap as many photos of mine as soon as possible so that I could return my gown because the Mechanical stream guys were waiting and you don’t want to mess with them. There was also a rumour doing the rounds that someone had taken their gown home. The humour! The humour!

There was no proper dress code, and neither were the parents invited to the ceremony. My goodness, I would have needed cylinders of oxygen if that were to happen. Still, some students came in with their happy parents and probably went back home with horror in their eyes. River of tea flowing in front of the office, stamps of shoes on this river as it got thinner and thinner and wider and wider as time and more feet passed, students roaming around here and there because someone lost their hood, someone lost their mortarboard, someone misplaced their lakh-worth degree certificate, people complaining about mismanagement, etcetera.

The whole ceremony was nowhere near to what I had imagined. A graduation ceremony for what it’s really worth should be dealt with finesse and at least a dot of respect; that’s why in popular culture these ceremonies are regarded with reverence. Because it takes a person years to get a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree, the conferring committee should at least take the pains to organize a blasting ceremony that will be remembered by its passing-out students for years and who will share the stories that happen during this ceremony in the future alumni meets.

It has been hardly a week since I smiled into a camera wearing a rented graduation robe and holding my degree certificate, and I have no good memory of that day. Except that of the river of tea.

But who are we kidding!? An institution that cannot afford to rent few hundred gowns for the most happiest day of a part of their students’ academic lives is a testament to the fact that education in India is, sadly, only a business, nothing else.

What have been your experiences?