The liminality of graduation

I love graduations. I celebrated my first graduation—from a humble Bachelor of Arts—in 1999. From memory, I first participated in an academic procession in September 2012. I enjoy the pomp of graduation: winged gowns, polyester mimicking the textures of velvet and silk, the ceremonial mace, graduands’ inappropriate shoes for cobblestones, an operatic intermission, the occasional celebrity speaker, fairy lights in the trees, and champagne and canapes at the end. Each time I attend, I recapture something of the nervousness and pride of graduating with my PhD when my daughter was three years old.

And you have to love a word like graduand—a person about to receive a degree—that is only in use for an hour or so. A perfect word to describe the liminality of graduation ceremonies.

Les Back starts Academic Diary with graduation (and this is notable because, as far as I know, there is not a lot of academic writing about graduation ceremonies):

On graduation day even the most down at heart professor can’t help but be reminded of how much distance—intellectually and personally—each student has traveled. The evidence is paraded in front of us as we hear their names read out loud and watch them each in turn take the stage to receive symbolically their degree… It is a good moment to take stock, make resolutions and re-imagine what the university might be …

This time was special: my friend and first PhD candidate to complete Dr Lilia Mantai graduated with a PhD entitled Social Support and Identity Development in the Journey from PhD ‘Student’ to ‘Researcher’ and Beyond.

I think Lilia’s own words best sum up the PhD experience. From her study of PhD acknowledgements (2015):

[In Acknowledgements] the PhD is described … as: “hard adventure”, “path of my life”, “leisurely but costly trip”, “educational endeavor”, “this long process”, “a long passage of learning” and “plodding ahead taking one bite at a time of the huge elephant in front of me” … They portray the PhD as a collective journey heavily reliant on others …

And from her journal article Feeling Like a Researcher (2017):

[The] process [of becoming a researcher] is rarely straight forward but is best described as moving back and forth while gradually approaching the goal of being a researcher. The ways participants see or position themselves as researchers vary. When asked ‘How and when do you feel like a researcher?’ some state they have always seen themselves and felt as researchers, long before they started PhD study. They refer to a natural curiosity, positive research experience in their previous studies, work leading up to research, or not being able to imagine doing any other job …  Some students see themselves as both PhD student and researcher, or in a transitional role from student to researcher. Prompted to reflect on specific instances when they identify themselves as researchers, some interviewees change and contradict their statements, revealing that defining themselves as researchers is a quest in itself.

Congratulations Lilia – it was a joy to be a part of your PhD journey. Now into the beyond!

2 thoughts on “The liminality of graduation

  1. Pingback: Enjoying the little things | The Slow Academic

  2. Pingback: Things I’m learning | The Slow Academic

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