Sunday, November 24, 2019

A closing chapter

20 November 2019, Elphinstone Hall, University of Aberdeen. 

A windy, grey day in late autumn, with a bite in the air that suggests winter might not be far off. Thankfully, it is not pouring rain, and that is a great thing as the five of us MLitt students trek across campus in our billowy graduation gowns to the heart of Old Aberdeen and New King's Chapel. There, we sit with several hundred other students awaiting instructions about how to proceed with our graduation ceremony.

The Sacrist (the person in charge of the proceedings) and half a dozen assistants come around to each of us, checking our names and positions in line, making sure that we process in the correct order and end up in the right seats in Elphinstone Hall, where we will be presented to the Chancellor, and be granted our degrees. The music of bagpipes grows closer and greets us as we walk single file to the Hall and process up the center aisle to our seats. I feel just a little teary, but take a deep breath as I look up at the beautiful arched ceiling and oak-panelled walls.

It is a bit like stepping back a century or two. The graduation ceremony in Elphinstone Hall is in Latin. Sitting there under the gaze of Mary Stuart (in one of the oil paintings in gilded frames hanging above me on the wall), singing the words of the medieval Latin student song "Gaudeamus Igitur," I can easily imagine being a scholar here a couple of centuries ago, breathlessly awaiting the conferral of an academic degree.

The relatively new Elphinstone Hall where we sit is a twentieth-century replacement of the old Great Hall, built to recall an earlier era in Old Aberdeen's history. It feels ancient, the home of old traditions. As each of us hears our name called, we walk onto the stage where our professors are seated and receive the traditional tap on the head with a ceremonial cap, conferring our degrees on us with the phrase, "Et te creo," meaning (roughly) "I make you [a master of your discipline], also." The Sacrist places our colorful silk hoods over our heads, and we turn and walk down the center stairs of the stage back to our seats, suddenly changed into masters and doctors!

It happened so quickly, but it was a magical day, the culmination of a journey that I started in September 2018 with the help of many friends. In the year I was in Aberdeen, I made still more friends, learned much, and also discovered that I have much more to learn. There's no end to it!

(L to R) Dr Tom McKean,
Dr Frances Wilkins, and
Nicolas Le Bigre,
our very patient teachers and mentors
(Photo by Mara Shea)
From a video posted on YouTube by the University of Aberdeen 

(L to R) Dr Tom McKean, Mara Shea, Eleanor Telfer,
Wenqiu Chen, Anne Greig, Rebecca Palomino,
Dr Frances Wilkins, and Nicolas Le Bigre, Teaching Fellow
(Photo by Simon Gall, Elphinstone Institute)

So, part of a journey is completed. More adventures lie ahead, in what form I don't know quite yet. But I do know there are wonderful, kind, and positive friends in Aberdeen and throughout the world who love traditions – music, dance, stories, beliefs – and I am grateful for them. 

And I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.


  1. Congratulations Mara! This has been a wonderful story so far and I can't wait to hear more about what happens next! :) - Josh

  2. Hard work, duly rewarded. So glad we could see where it all happened!

    1. Glad you could come visit--that was wonderful!

  3. Congrats!! Fine job, thank you for sharing the journey, it often felt like we were with you. See you very soon!

  4. Congratulations, Mara! We are so happy for you!