What really happens at an Oxford graduation
You probably know the basics. Tearful parents, oversized gowns and the I-wish-I-wore-flats-what-was-I-thinking-my-feet-are-red-raw-heels you bought especially for the occasion. Luckily, I've had the privilege of graduating from two amazing universities; one for my undergraduate BA and the other for my Master's degree in History. Whilst Bristol University certainly had it's fair share of tradition (including a 24-hour-exam that honestly nearly killed me), nothing could have prepared me for the eccentric, bizarre and at times downright creepy Oxford graduation ceremony. So, what really happens at an Oxford graduation?
No one has a clue what is going on
Firstly, I am convinced that there was not a single person in the entire Sheldonian Theatre (the graduation theatre) that had a clue what was going on. Men in funny-looking hats and sombre black gowns were swinging silver-sticks left, right and centre, security staff were frantically whispering into their walkie-talkies, telling people to put their phones away and we (the graduands) were ushered into a number of rooms, queues and seats before the ceremony began, with no briefing, no preparation and no idea what the ceremony was to behold.
The entire ceremony is conducted in Latin
This brings me to my next point. The entire ceremony (after a brief introduction) was conducted in Latin. If it wasn't enough that we had no idea what to wear, where to go and what to do, a man wearing a funny-shaped-squidgy-looking-hat was bellowing this foreign language at the top of his lungs around the hall. Typical Oxford - making us feel thick at our own graduation!! I could just about work out my name, followed by 'Collegium Sancti Hildi'. Admittedly, it was a very proud moment.
There's a lot of unexplained pacing, hat waving and bowing
At (what seemed to us) like random points in the ceremony, the proctors (a man and a woman in funny hats, dressed in a fur number that looked like my Dad's dressing gown on steroids) walked ten paces down the hall, doffed their hats and turned back down to their seats. This happened three times. There was also an obscene amount of bowing. At the beginning of the ceremony, the graduands (wearing their Sub Fusc [plain academic dress]), have to bow three times in front of the proctors and the Chancellor, before leaving the Sheldonian Theatre to change outfit (more on this below). As aforementioned, not a single one of us was briefed on how and when to bow, so when the time came, there was a red-faced, Mexican-wave effect among us and a lot of hissing from the porters "PSSST, BOW NOW!".
Someone got hit on the head with a bible
With all this going on, my friend Molly and I were struggling to keep a straight face. It wasn't until someone knelt down in front of the Chancellor and was, to our utter surprise, hit on the head with a Bible that we lost it.
You change outfits halfway through (in Hogwart's Hospital!)
After the first part of the ceremony, the graduands walk back into the Sheldonian theatre in rows of four in their full graduation gown. For me, this was a beautiful lace gown with a white satin-tipped green sash. This is the first time that friends and family see you in your academic dress and it's all very dramatic. What they didn't see, however, is the behind-the-scenes 'GET THE EFFING SASH OVER MY HEAD AND CLIPPED ONTO MY BLOUSE BEFORE I MURDER YOU' levels of stress that happens in the House of Complication (where Harry Potter ends up in hospital at the end of the first film) before we walked in again.
Despite the pomp, the ceremony is a fitting way to say goodbye to a magical university
Honestly speaking, although this was an incredibly proud day for my family and I; I found the whole day bittersweet. The year I spent at Oxford was easily the best year of my entire life, filled with magical memories and experiences that I will take with me forever. The pompous but wonderful graduation ceremony was definitely a fitting end to such an enchanting year, but I don't think I'll ever be ready to say goodbye.
Thank you to my amazing boyfriend, not just for the beautiful photographs, but the immense support, love and dedication you've shown me this year. I'm a very lucky girl!