This weekend, on June 4th, after studying with the Open University for six years I finally went to the degree ceremony (the OU doesn’t seem to call them Graduation ceremonies as we graduate when we get the degree in the post). The local one to me was in Ely Cathedral and I think it’s definitely the most impressive setting of the ones I’ve seen when it comes to these ceremonies. We’d been there a few years ago to have a look around after finding out about it but it somehow seemed even bigger on the day.
As we only live an hour and a quarter away from Ely we decided not to stay away for the night and we left in time to get there for four or half past so we’d have plenty of time to get the photos and robing sorted with enough time to have a rest in between that and the ceremony itself. There are two presentations, one at half past two and another at half past six and we were there for the evening one. I think that getting there for about half past four was pretty much perfect, we arrived at quarter past and by the time we were signed in it was just after half past. There were people hanging around and taking photos from the previous one, you could see they had the blue tubes they hand out on stage, and there were very few people there getting robed and photographed for the evening ceremony. There was no wait for the robes and you could see how far the line was expected to be for photographs and we were at the bend in those back and forth patterns they do closest to the photographers so it was minutes there, I wouldn’t want to be at the back of there as, even though there were plenty of photographers, I can see it taking quite a while.
Getting the robes put on was surprisingly quick, I had images of lot of adjusting and pins holding things in place but the robe is very light and the only adjusting really was holding the hood in place and sticking the Velcro down for it. One thing I will suggest is safety pins as, although it did stay attached to the robe it slipped off my shoulder every few minutes. I did have them ready to go but on the day I managed to leave them on the kitchen counter. I know that a lot of people didn’t seem to have the same problem as me, theirs seemed to stay perfectly in place with just the robes and the Velcro, but there were a few others who kept pulling them up again. I quite liked the Open University robes, not that they’re exclusive or anything but they were navy and really lightweight compared to what I was expecting. The hood was pretty light too and I don’t think that the other qualifications with different combinations and colours looked like they’d be overly heavy either.
After the fun of the photography, my glasses kept slipping down and the tassel on the mortar board would not stay in place so it had to keep being readjusted, we wandered around the cathedral outside a bit to see the entrance and things. I don’t think the weather could have been better, it was warm and fairly sunny but not too hot and there was a bit of a breeze so you could sit down in the shade and it was very nice. I’m not sure if it had really hit me at this time that I was going to be going up and having my name announced and everything, though the robes probably should have been the point when I really noticed, I’m not sure why.
With the tickets from the OU you get a lunch, or in our case dinner, with sandwiches, crisps, a cake thing, fruit and water which is a pretty decent sized meal and works great as a picnic. They also had all of the OU souvenirs so of course we had to get some. My parents had bought my sister the teddy bear for her university graduation so they bought me one of them and a bright purple hoodie, I kind of wish I’d bought this sooner as it’s so comfortable and snuggly but not bulky. Unfortunately they’d sold out of the t-shirts with all of the names on but we’ve ordered one when we got back as they’re doing more for people who wanted them.
Then, after a picnic where we were joined by some ducks, it was time for the ceremony itself. I will admit I wasn’t feeling great as it had been a bit draining so far and the thought of sitting in the cathedral was a bit overwhelming but I recovered and we made it in. Inside was pretty impressive, even more so than normal, as the stage at the front had the chairs all set up for the official people (I have no idea what their real title is) and we were sat off to one side so we had a great view. The people who were in charge of those of us with disabilities were so good, they made sure we knew what was happening and when we were meant to go. Most of the students were sat at the back and you walked down the side of the cathedral to have your name called out, I think there must have been room for maybe three hundred students, I didn’t count but going by the number of rows of seating, so it’s not a huge amount but I think it’s one with more guests per student than a lot as it was either six or seven you could have if you wanted depending on the time you chose.
I was a bit nervous when we heard about sitting near the front with my parents so they could help if I needed it, that there wouldn’t be many other students there with me but the front row off to the side was mainly students and I did talk a bit with the ones on either side so it was nice to have some others in the same boat and we were all a bit nervous and excited. I wish I’d talked to them a bit more but, as I said, I was nervous and already tired so I didn’t manage much in the way of conversation.
The ceremony itself was really nice, a lot less formal than I expected in a lot of ways as everyone clapped for everyone who went up and there were plenty of people who got shouts and obviously had groups of people for them. It was over surprisingly quickly but I remember finding myself almost crying a few times going through it, I know that a few others around me seemed to be the same It was then that it really hit me that I’d finished my degree, that this was it. I did manage to get up the steps and accept the blue tube that they give out at these things without falling over, though I thought I was going to at the top step, and it was interesting hearing about the woman who was an honorary graduate, Dame Julia Cleverdon. The speeches were shorter than I expected and there was even some audience participation in part of it, mainly raising hands or standing up, and it definitely didn’t seem like I was in there for an hour and a half.
Afterwards it was all getting ready to go and getting disrobed, it was fairly quick and it almost seemed like it hadn’t all happened when we were on our way home again. I hope it’s something that I remember in the future, though I’m so tired it all seems a bur at the moment, and I am definitely proud of the fact that I managed it, both the degree and the day itself.
One thing I’ve mentioned a few times is the blue tubes which, before we were in the car on the way home, I thought were just placeholder type things for the photograph of you being given something on stage or something to keep your certificate in if you wanted with a nice Open University crest on it. It turns out that inside was a little note from the Chancellor, something about the careers service and a little pin. I have recently started to collect these little pins so I really liked this and it’s a nice little something extra for you to remember the day.
Ely itself isn’t very big, I think it’s smaller than a lot of the towns around near me, but the cathedral is pretty impressive. On the day of the ceremony they have a craft fair not far away, it’s on the green right opposite the main entrance of the cathedral itself, and the stalls looked nice with some food and craft stalls and I think it said about some more village fete type stalls but I didn’t see them. I think if I’d had more energy on the day we’d have enjoyed wandering around there for a bit in between the robing and the ceremony itself. If you can get there then I think that Ely is a great setting for the degree ceremony. I’m not sure if it’s still the case but I think at one time it was one of those venues that only those registered in the local area could go to, at least that’s what I was told in a previous course, but judging by some of the distances people have travelled and said about on the Facebook page set up for the event I would say that’s probably not the case anymore.
To be honest I wasn’t even sure if I was going to go to the ceremony, it seemed a bit odd going to celebrate it when I hadn’t really had any contact with other students outside of the online forums and I’d actually finished my degree last October. The idea of sitting in the cathedral for an hour and a half and the couple of hours leading up to it with how much those things tend to drain me really put me off but in the end I’m glad I went. I can’t wait for the photos to get here and to see the video when they put it up on YouTube and I would recommend going to one if you’re on the fence.