Last month, College announced that they will be changing their long-standing policy on calling up students in order of degree classification at graduations. From now on, students will be called up in alphabetical order by class group. We, as a university, should recognise the importance of this change. Trinity, like many universities, is a very old and very elitist institution, and changes like this are small steps towards dismantling some of the elitist practices in College. It may appear small in the grand scheme of things, but a change like this can mean the world to a student who worked and struggled their way through college and achieved a lower classification of degree.
The criticisms of this change are frankly laughable, and completely ignorant to the reasons for the change in the first place. The argument that this negatively affects students who received first-class honours degrees really speaks to the priorities of those making said arguments. Calling students out in alphabetical order does not change their degree results. What it does change is the showcasing of students who struggled and still managed to get their degree. Imagine you are a student who found college incredibly difficult, struggled your way through four years and still managed to get a degree. That is a huge achievement. Now imagine you’re that student and your university makes a point of spotlighting you as the person who achieved the lowest degree result in your entire course. How would you feel? I guarantee you would feel far worse than if you achieved the best result in your course and weren’t called out first. This change is about harm level. The harm done to students who received lower classifications of degrees is far greater in the old system than the harm done to students who receive firsts in the new system.
“By the time they reach graduation, students deserve to have their achievements celebrated. The achievement is making it through university, the achievement is surviving your four years, the achievement is getting a degree.”
In the announcement Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) President Gabi Fullam and Registrar Neville Cox said: “Commencement ceremonies are all about the huge achievement of receiving a degree from Trinity and we really hope that this will mean that no student will feel isolated or singled out on the basis that they received a particular class of degree.” This quote sums up the benefits of this change very well. The isolation and shame students feel in an academic institution is already a huge burden. By the time they reach graduation, students deserve to have their achievements celebrated. The achievement is making it through university, the achievement is surviving your four years, the achievement is getting a degree. That achievement should not matter less if the degree is anything other than a first. Those who achieve firsts can celebrate that, but should save the bragging for their LinkedIn posts.
“Students who have to work nights and weekends and don’t have the same amount of time to spend on essays, assignments, and dissertations.”
All of this is before we examine why some students struggle more to achieve high grades in college than others. It’s not as simple as hard work or academic ability. Many students don’t have the time to spend on their studies that a select few do. Many have to work to pay for fees and rent. It’s all well and good praising students who get firsts, but we must examine why some students don’t have the time or the means to reach the same level of achievement. This is a problem every university encounters, and the change in graduation order will not mend it. However, it will take away the extra layer of stress for students at graduation. Students who have to work nights and weekends and don’t have the same amount of time to spend on essays, assignments, and dissertations. These students don’t need to be worried about being called out last anymore because they had to pick up extra shifts to pay their rent. No matter what path you had to take to succeed in college, no one should be isolated and invalidated on their graduation day.
Overall, it is frankly ridiculous that there is pushback against this change. The disparagement of the new system reeks of privilege and classism and the majority of students are tired of it. It is hard enough to get through college without worrying about being isolated and humiliated at graduation just so people who have the time and means to get a first can pat themselves on the back. Getting a degree is a huge achievement, especially when it sometimes feels like the university itself doesn’t want you to succeed. For those of you who are worried about your achievements not being recognised by College in this change, I invite you to really examine why you care so much about public praise at the expense of your classmates. For a second, put yourselves in someone else’s shoes and consider that their path through College has been fundamentally different to yours. If that isn’t enough, there’s always LinkedIn.