(Small images due to blog post being migrated from an earlier website).
Cities up and down the UK have been buzzing with graduation ceremonies in recent weeks.
This year’s excitement was underscored by sweltering summer weather, reflected in the desperately parched lawns. However, the cities, campuses and institutions have sparkled like the people being celebrated.
Graduation brings a palpable sense of occasion on a par with weddings and christenings – if a little less personal. They are days of best suits and new frocks, of killer high heels and shiny jewellery. Most prominently, they are days of tilted and tossed mortar boards and flowing colourful gowns.
They are days of deep pride – as much for the parents and families of those graduating, as for the graduands themselves. Graduation days live long in the memory. Framed photographs of my brother and I wearing our respective robes remain fixed to the wall at our parents’ house, well over a decade on and show no sign of moving (unfortunately). It’s the same in plenty of households.
They are days of high trade, good business, increased footfall and imaginative enterprise. Graduations are big opportunities for photographers of all kinds to make cash. Bringing thousands of additional people into the city centre, it’s a boom time for plenty of businesses.
This year (2013) I was commissioned by Cardiff University to undertake reportage photography throughout the week. Tough as it was, especially under such draining heat, I loved it. All that pride and emotion, the bonds between parents and children, all with different subtleties. The bonds between classmates and well-rehearsed humour.
As with weddings, you get belatedly smacked by emotion at the desk afterwards, rather than at the time, urgently searching for the next image. Scrolling back through at the end of the week while listening to sentimental pop music. All the smiles, meaningful embraces, tearful eyes. At that point it’s kind of heartwarming.
Observing it all so closely couldn’t fail to bring back memories of my own graduation, also held in this city.
Befitting the time-honoured traditions and hefty wedge of British pomp, not much seems to have changed. There are stiff introductions of parents to friends, the ceremony and seemingly endless roll-call of names, the nervous jokes about tripping over when your name is finally called and you step out across a stage in front of hundreds of your peers.
Eventually proceedings draw to a close and new graduates splurge out from St David’s Hall into the Hayes area of the city centre.
Cardiff has much to be proud about as a city, and its universities – including the newly formed University of South Wales – are a cornerstone of that pride. Year after year they produce a strong volume of high calibre students ready to make an impact in workplaces across the world. They also produce groundbreaking research with the potential to bring major benefits.
It’s the time of year when new graduates take a bow. But for the mammoth logistical efforts of graduation week, the institutions themselves deserve a nod as well.
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