Trinity’s graduation process needs to adapt for today’s students

From ceremonies entirely in Latin to awarding degrees in descending order of merit, the entire process has become elitist and outdated

With yet another year’s graduations behind us, it’s long past the time where we need to examine just how we celebrate and commemorate the graduation of Trinity students, and what should be changed about the graduation process and the ceremony itself. From a ceremony delivered entirely in Latin to a degree presentation arranged in order of results, Trinity’s graduation process is in a lot of ways emblematic of the wider issues Trinity’s image has faced in recent years. Should the College wish to shed its elitist, walled-off reputation, perhaps the way we bid farewell to our students would be an apt place to start.

“Graduates sit and are presented in order of their academic achievements, which seems like a grand honour for those at the top, but for everyone else, it’s more of a reduction of their achievements.”

Whilst there are certain traditions of graduation that most wouldn’t want to change – from the iconic gowns and caps to the procession into the Front Square – there are plenty of other relics in today’s graduation ceremony at Trinity that would be better left in the past. There may be a certain charm to sitting beneath the looming portraits of scholars and provosts of the past in the centuries-old public theatre to celebrate your own academic achievement, but much of the ceremony today is exclusionary and intentionally obtrusive.

Trinity isn’t the only college to continue to practise its academic processions in Latin – UCD’s ceremonies follow a similar structure, as do plenty of the world’s most prestigious universities. As a relic of classicism, it seems like the continuation of a grand tradition to deliver these ceremonies in an undeniably sophisticated and impressive language, but the practicality of its use, and the image presented by it, should be brought into question.

“Trinity’s graduation ceremony turns that joy and satisfaction into something more akin to a public shaming for some.”

In an age where the hall was filled almost exclusively with scholars and elite families schooled by necessity in Latin, it certainly must have boosted the sense of community and common education among alumni and students to sit through the ceremony entirely in the language, but today it presents far more impracticalities than advantages. As professors become less fluent and more awkward in their pronunciations, and as less and less attendees understand a word being spoken, what good is there in continuing to rattle on in a language nobody in the room can understand or truly care about? For a class of Latin or classics scholars it certainly seems apt, but why should a class of computer science or maths graduates be excluded by language from the very ceremony intended to honour them?

Perhaps Trinity doesn’t wish to upset the status quo among the elite of universities across the world by dropping such a coveted tradition, but Trinity is unique in some of its quirks when it comes to graduation, the most widely criticised being the ordering of degree presentations by exam results. Graduates sit and are presented in order of their academic achievements, which seems like a grand honour for those at the top, but for everyone else, it’s more of a reduction of their achievements.

“Plenty of others work just as hard if not even harder to achieve the best for them, whether it be a pass or a 2.2.”

Of course those who achieve the very best in their academic accomplishments should be rewarded for their years of hard work, but isn’t that reward within the degree itself? They’ll forever be first class graduates of their field; they’ll know it, and their employers will know it, they’ll be rewarded by the opportunities that present themselves to such a graduate. Must their accomplishments be so public that they’re marched up before their classmates tier by tier until only the “lowest” of the class are left, treated almost as an afterthought to the main event?

Academic accomplishments vary from person to person, and whilst it may occasionally be the case that a first class honours student simply worked harder than their fellow graduates, plenty of others work just as hard if not even harder to achieve the best for them, whether it be a pass or a second. I’m not trying to dismantle the entire grading system or academic rankings and assessments – of course, education needs to maintain some semblance of authority and objectivity if a degree is to retain its merit and value. However, perhaps those assessments don’t need to be presented in such a condescending and diminishing manner. On a day that’s supposed to be a celebration of the collective accomplishment of an entire class, Trinity’s graduation ceremony turns that joy and satisfaction into something more akin to a public shaming for some.

For today’s graduates, it is not uncommon to skip the ceremony altogether, be it for anxiety surrounding the publicity of their results, the stress of preparing for such a formal occasion, or a genuine disinterest in a ceremony that’s impersonal, stuffy and just plain boring. More stress is the last thing a student needs following their final year of university, and a graduation ceremony should be a goal to look forward to, not yet another deadline to dread.

Today’s graduation should reflect today’s university life, as a modern, open and accepting celebration of the time spent here in Trinity, commemorating the accomplishments and newfound opportunities of its students, without any sort of hierarchical order. Obviously celebrating academic success is the goal of such ceremonies, but we need to find a more casual, relaxed way to congratulate our graduates, one that students will actually be excited to attend.

It’s hard to blame those who feel less inclined to make an appearance at their own graduation anymore, because every memory of that day from the stuffy and incomprehensible procession to the programme listing them among their classmates in descending order of their worth reinforces the worst parts of Trinity’s reputation as a hub of elitism, without celebrating the time they spent here.

Eoin O'Donnell

Eoin O'Donnell is a current Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister History student, and a former Deputy Investigations Editor.