Is it time to change Trinity’s ‘horrendous’ graduation ceremony?

Awarding degrees in desending order of merit can amount to ‘public shaming’

At Trinity College Dublin, graduands - those about to graduate - take part in a procession in  order of academic achievement. Photograph: iStock

At Trinity College Dublin, graduands - those about to graduate - take part in a procession in order of academic achievement. Photograph: iStock

 

Trinity College Dublin’s graduation ceremonies are steeped in cherished tradition: the Latin ceremony, the front square procession and the strict black or white dress code.

But one particular tradition is attracting criticism and, for some, turning graduating into a day of “dread” or even “ humiliation”.

In Trinity, graduands (those about to graduate) are lined up and paraded in descending order of academic achievement.

Students with the highest grades, such as a 1.1, parade first, followed by 2.1, 2.2s and, lastly, those with pass grades.

Other colleges call out names alphabetically, with everyone treated with equal jubilation and privacy. For reasons of tradition, however, graduands at Trinity are grouped into academic bands of achievement.

A number of students and graduates who spoke to The Irish Times feel the result is a kind of public shaming that can feel “horrendous” or “totally unnecessary”.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” says one postgraduate student, who says it adds another layer to what is already a stressful final year. Another former student with a pass grade remembers the ceremony as “humiliating”, while another describes it as “totally unnecessary”.

With final year already a stressful time, and with mental health becoming more of a focal point in education, is it time to change Trinity graduation ceremony?

‘Degrading’

“I would support any move Trinity makes to end this degrading tradition,” says Lynn Ruane, an independent Senator and former president of Trinity’s student union.

“In Trinity it is the goal of many to get that first class honours and fair play to them, but it wasn’t for me . . . I just wanted to get through my degree, develop academically and do the best I could with the situation I was in.”

While she says she loved her time at the university, she ended up fighting through many difficult situations.

“I lost my Da, I was a single Ma, I had very little second-level schooling and I was trying to find my way through a whole new world. Is my 2.2 degree less than anyone else’s? No, I don’t think it is,” says Ruane.

“I was just as capable, intelligent and hard-working as the students I shared a class with. Yet I had to fight what I felt was an embarrassing tradition of being one of the last people to be called during the graduation ceremony, as though my achievements were lesser than the person beside me with a 2:1.”

“I got average results, but I was a good student, studying like many others in exceptional circumstances,” she says.

Eoin O’Donnell, writing in the latest edition of Trinity News, says it is common for some to skip the ceremony because they don’t want to be presented in a “condescending and diminishing manner”.

“On a day that’s supposed to be a celebration of the collective accomplishment of an entire class, Trinity’s graduation ceremony turns that joy and satisfaction into something more akin to a public shaming for some,” he writes.

Tradition

A spokeswoman for Trinity said its graduation ceremony was a positive experience which is enjoyed by many graduands based on feedback received.

“The ceremony has not changed its format significantly over time; it maintains its traditional format for the presentation of candidates as prescribed in the Statutes of the University. We have never received negative feedback but we would consider reviewing and proposing revisions if we felt it had negative effects on our graduands and graduates and especially in relation to their mental health.”

“Trinity is committed to promoting equality and inclusivity among our student body and the mental health of our students is of utmost importance to us,” she added.

Trinity’s students’ union president Shane De Rís says the union has not received a mandate or been requested to push for such reform, but it always remains open to such calls.

“The Trinity graduation ceremony is one steeped in tradition but that does not mean that it cannot be changed,” he says.

“Excelling academically in a chosen field of study is a feat which must be recognised, achieving a first-class degree requires an incredible amount of work and determination.This does not mean, however, that someone who gets a third-class degree should be subject to humiliation or singled out.”

De Rís suggests a compromise where students who finish top of their group be recognised without segregating other graduands.

“Everyone who is awarded a degree, regardless of the class, has earned something to be proud of, and the graduation ceremony is how that is done,” he says.