It's the end of the spring semester and graduation ceremonies have been held all over the UAE.
The graduation ceremony is one of the biggest milestones in a young person's life and although many have donned a cap and gown and observed the various traditions, few understand what all the fuss is about.
These events are filled with symbolism, archaic traditions and rules but they have endured through the centuries.
American University of Sharjah provost Dr Thomas Hochstettler offered an explanation: "I think there is a need in society for moments of celebration, especially today when there is a rapid evolution of technology and change and integration of the peoples of the world there's a deep human need to establish roots and say ‘this will not change.'"
"The colours, the medals, the hats and the funny way people dress up, all have a lot of symbolism, they all have a meaning."
"Universities were places of power and strength in their origins because they were producing the elite of society," said Raymi van der Spek, executive director of administration at the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD).
He added in modern times, graduation ceremonies are a formal recognition of what has usually been a long and difficult process for students. It is essentially a celebration of the fact they have gone from being graduands to graduates.
The origins of the ceremonial rituals are believed to date back to medieval England.
It is believed Oxford University is where the standard global rite of passage of graduating students was started in the 14th century.
"In those days universities were bound with monasteries and religious orders," said Stewart Smith, Deputy Registrar at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. "The first lecturers at universities were monks and religious clerics."
"The mortar board developed from the berretta or skull cap worn by the Roman-Catholic clergy, which also takes it back to the religious foundation of the university."
However Heriot-Watt University's graduands in both Scotland and Dubai do not wear mortar boards.
The Roman-Catholic influence in modern day graduation ceremonies is also evident in some of the Latin terms used at the event. Some institutions such as the University of Edinburgh, issue graduation certificates entirely in Latin, upon request, while others merely adopt certain Latin phrases for the calling of honour students.
The Canadian University of Dubai (CUD) follows the British style graduation and recently held its inaugural graduation ceremony.
Institutions have adopted the terms Cum Laude (with praise), Magna Cum Laude (with great praise) and Summa Cum Laude (with highest praise) for the recommendation of those graduating with honour; to introduce some depth into the ceremony.
"As a board we feel traditions are extremely important and the use of certain traditional Latin terms give a graduation depth," said Professor Karim Chelli, President of CUD. "Adopting such practices serves to reinforce a link between tradition and modern times."
"Of course we have certain protocols because His Highness [Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member, Ruler of Sharjah and President of the American University of Sharjah] is our president so there are some things we obviously don't do compared to the United States," said Dr Hochstettler.
Similarly institutions like UOWD and CUD have merged their traditional graduation ceremonies with elements of the host culture.
"Graduations at our mother campus in Wollongong are not quite as done to the same degree as they are here at UOWD," said van der Spek. "I think people here enjoy a sense of formality and so we introduce a fairly strong element of that at UOWD."
For instance the presence of VIP guests such as Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, or the presence of other senior government officials at the award ceremony does not happen at the University of Wollongong graduations in Australia.
"We also run two national anthems here, one for the UAE and the other for Australia," said van der Spek, "while in Australia it would just be the one."
CUD took this incorporation one step further in their inaugural graduation and opened the event with a recitation from the Quran.
Graduation ceremonies are full of tradition and almost every aspect of the event has some meaning that goes back centuries. The most common are:
Mace: Originally it was a spear-like emblem that evolved into a symbolic item held by the bearer, who heads the procession, as a form of symbolic protection of the university leadership.
Gonfalons: Each college is led to the graduation ceremony by its gonfalon.
They consist of pieces of fabric that are put together and the symbols used have special meaning for each college or school.
Degree: In some universities, parchment is still used but most degrees are printed on paper or thin card.
Doctoral graduands may have the option of having their scroll written by a calligrapher on vellum or animal skin.
Language: Some of the older universities may hold their graduation ceremonies in Latin, even though few students understand this language. Anthems may also be in this ancient language.
Music: The music most often played at graduation ceremonies is Pomp and Circumstance, March number 1 composed by Sir Edward Elgar. The music is played as the procession begins and the ceremonial mace is carried to the stage.
Flipping of the tassel: When candidates receive their diploma and a
handshake, and flip the tassel on their hat to the left side.
Doffing of the hat: Similar to the concept of saluting in the army; anyone
who walks up on stage must tip their hat to the head of the institution before
Capping: Requires graduands to move forward and kneel when called, to be
touched lightly on the head or ‘capped’ with a flat velvet cap by the presiding
official; who then pronounces the Latin words of conferment.
From / Gulf News