27 October 2008


I have a backlog of quintissentially Cantabrigian experiences to report to you on, so I begin tonight with Matriculation. It's one of those wonderfully tradition-encrusted institutions of Cambridge life, and it marks the official beginning of membership in one's College. I've never read any Harry Potter books, but there were lots of elements of the experience that made me think of Harry Potter. (Quick review: Cambridge has 31 colleges, and each grad student is affiliated with one of them, more for housing and social life than for academics. Mine is Emmanuel College.)

The ceremony began with a group photo in the front court of the College, in front of the chapel. We were required to look respectable--dark suits for gents--and wear our academic gowns, which are a must-have unless you're at one of those "modern" and "progressive" colleges. Before the big group photo, I organized a smaller photo of the eight new Williams people at Emma this year. Unfortunately, the chapel is totally washed out in the late afternoon sun, but you can at least see the silly robes they make us wear:

Observant family members may notice that I'm wearing the "Nana tie," which just happens to be the Emmanuel College colors, pink and blue!

So, now the Harry Potter-esque part. The kernel of the Matriculation ceremony is signing your name in a big book as the Master of the College and the Graduate Tutor look on. Before they started calling us upstairs, we received very specific instructions: we were to write our full names, undergraduate institutions, and places of birth. For those born in the British Isles, that meant the "historic county" of birth--which led to puzzlement for those born in London, which has apparently devoured a lot of historic counties around it. Those born in the U.S., Canada, and Australia wrote our birth states or provinces, and everyone else was supposed to just write the country. A Russian student asked if that meant the country as it now exists, or as it existed at the time of birth, and I'm not sure if she got a satisfactory answer.

The head porter called us upstairs in alphabetical groups at five-minute intervals, whereupon we were ushered into an opulently furnished room with lots of portraits of dead Emmanuel fellows on the walls. We signed a bunch of papers that said we would uphold the values of Cambridge, pay "due respect and obedience" to the vice-chancellor and the university, and all that jazz. The Master, Graduate Tutor, and the book were in the next room at the head of a very long table, and the dean of the college called us in there one by one.

Finally it was my turn, and as I started writing in the book, the Master asked how many names I had. I informed him that, regretfully, I only have three, but it was my understanding that his full name is rather impressive. (His wikipedia page identifies him as "Richard Thomas James Wilson, Baron Wilson of Dinton GCB.") We chatted briefly about how I was getting along, and he congratulated me and said, "you are now a member of the College, and will be for the rest of your life." For some reason, I thought of that kid from The Sandlot going "FOR-EV-ER. FOR-EV-ER."

Naturally, when everyone has signed the book, a lavish evening of drinking and eating ensued. The end.

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