Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Let’s begin at the very end — by attending the convocation

Nigam Nuggehalli writes: Convocations provide a sense of formal closure to students... You need the pomp and the splendour, the hall and red carpet, the mace and the bouquets

Nigam Nuggehalli, college life, university, admissionsConvocations are important for another reason: they provide a unique opportunity to participate in other people’s joy. (Graphics by Angshuman Maity)

(‘My dear students’, a fortnightly column that is a conversation with young minds on current events, books, popular culture — just about anything that’s worth talking over a cup of coffee.)

My dear students

This week, my university had its annual convocation. It took me back to my student days. I had come to the convocation with my brother, my parents and my grandmother. I remember hugging my family after the convocation. This time, after being involved in organising the convocation, I have come to realise the sheer amount of work and hassle required to hold an event of this sort. If I were to go back in time to my convocation, I would begin by hugging the Registrar.

One might wonder why we make such a big fuss about the convocation? Why have time and money and space spent on an event that is really about handing out certificates? There’s a bigger problem with convocations. Convocations come with academic regalia consisting of gowns and hoods. The proceedings are elaborately scripted, with addresses by the head of the institution and a chief guest. There are a number of people on the stage, of various designations and seniorities. Most of them maintain a stoic posture for a couple of hours. I looked so sombre, a friend texted to ask if I could smile a bit more. All in all, convocations sound like a lot of unnecessary work and irrelevant ceremonies. Why would young people attend something like this?

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But young people should love convocations, and with good reason. Convocations are a culmination of an academic cycle of at least three years that provides a sense of formal closure to students. Formal closures are important institutional landmarks in students’ lives, and provide a vivid demonstration of the end of the educational stage of their lives. You need the pomp and the splendour, the hall and red carpet, the mace and the bouquets; a bare certificate shouldn’t bookend your life at the University.

Convocations are also a time of reflection. The University, through its head, reflects on where it has come so far and what needs to be done in the future. The Chief Guest, if she chooses to do so, gives some excellent life hacks to the students. In the United States, these are called commencement addresses and the ones by the likes of Steve Jobs and David Foster Wallace are popular and are circulating on the web even today, though they were delivered nearly two decades ago. Last Sunday, Nandan Nilekani spoke at my University and gave an equally rousing speech, in which he exhorted students to create structures that give people agency, for only then can social systems work at scale.

Convocations are important for another reason: they provide a unique opportunity to participate in other people’s joy. Let me try and make this less soppy. As you know already, emotional bonds between people are good instrumentally, because you build a community that you can depend on because your lives are better when you share it with a network of friends. One of the profound challenges that your generation faces is that social media, while ensuring hyper-connectivity among your peers, has devalued the emotional connections among people that are so important to both mental health and professional advancement.

Convocations are one of the few occasions where the entire eco-system is built on emphasising emotional bonds among people. Your family and friends are there to see you graduate after years of hard work and perseverance. We are there to congratulate you on your success. These moments create their own magic.


After the convocation was over, I spent some time chatting with the graduating students under a shamiana set up nearby, where lunch was served. It was an unusually hot Bangalore afternoon but no one appeared worried about the weather. Many students came up to me and shared their future plans. While I was chatting with them, I was reminded that the whole administration of education ultimately comes down to this: a moment where students, parents and teachers come together and consecrate the beginning of a new phase of life and renewed hopes.

The people graduating are not the only ones to benefit from a convocation. I firmly believe that all current students must attend the annual convocation of their universities. Quite often, students, particularly in their first year of University, tend to skip the convocation ceremony altogether. This is a mistake. It’s an occasion where idealism meets its natural habitat. Notice how your seniors are relieved and overjoyed at the same time. Even some of the normally grumpy faculty will be in a good mood and inclined to chat with you. When else will you get this opportunity to develop a relationship with people outside of the confines of the University? But don’t forget to hug the Registrar.

The writer is Registrar, National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

First published on: 25-09-2022 at 10:13:26 am
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