Saturday 2 November 2013

The End is the Beginning

No classes in The Institute yesterday because it was Commencements. If you think about it that's an odd word to use for the final ceremony that students experience in their college.  Several weeks or months after they know what grade they got in their degree they come back to pick up the certificate from the President's own fair hand. It's an opportunity to put on the razz for everyone - the students, the parents and the staff; the former and the latter dolled up in medieval garb and the folks taking photos of it all.  The Chairman of the Board of Governors was dusted off to give a bit of a speech and he talked about looking forward to a technological future and not getting locked into past practice.

To illustrate this he told a parable about the Royal Artillery in Britain in WWII.  The top brass felt that the field (mobile) artillery were quite inefficient and called in the time-and-motion people to see where crucial seconds could be shaved off the firing rate. The systems analysts were curious as to the actual role of  two men from each team of gunners who stood to attention behind and slightly to the side of each gun;   because to their outside eye these two soldiers looked sort of redundant.  But when they asked the men themselves, the officer in charge, the regimental sergeant-major, the colonel, none of them had a clue.  But a ninety year old retired gunner knew immediately "Why yes sir, those men have been told off to hold the horses."  I have a dim memory of hearing that story before, but the punch-line came as a total and agreeable surprise.

So Commencements are not really about The Institute which, for the students, is now in the past; it's about beginning the next phase of life.  And this we firmly believe - that getting a cert or diploma or degree will be an asset when they enter the job-market.  I thought I was only going to know the handful of Environmental Chemists whom I had taught when Istarted at the IT in January and February but my current EnvCh class were there as well - togged out in gowns - collecting their degree parchments.  That's for their Ordinary Degree, they are now back on the books for their Honours Degree.  Anyway, I was delighted to see them on the launch-pad even if they aren't really launched yet.

Now I wonder when The Institute, with eagle eyes staring at The Future from its peak in the Midlands, is going to heed the Chairman's parable and stop trying to ape the University of Bologna circa 1158 in the matter of appropriate dress for a ceremonial occasion.  Irish judges gave up sitting under a mat of horse-hair a couple of years ago.  Time to move into the 21st Century, colleagues.


  1. what no photo of you to illustrate the point? slight disappointment here, but sounds like a great day

    1. Thanks Tovarich, but I didn't make myself clear. I was sitting with the Mums in the audience because I don't 'do' medieval. Didn't for my first degree, didn't for my PhD. So a photo of me would be surprising (jacket and tie) but not theatrical.

    2. ahhh! I was thinking of you every time I glanced the front cover of yesterdays Irish Times which had a very happy lady waving out from behind a very stern official from the UCC commencement. I could see you doing likewise (waving hysterically)