Sunday, October 18, 2009

Day 13: Matriculation

Applying to Oxford used to be radically different. There were no standardized grades and essays, photos and curriculum vitas to send. Instead, the process, I think, was much more grueling: you took an oral examination in Latin in front of your peers and Oxford dons. If you passed this test, you were admitted, or matriculated, to Oxford.

The matriculation ceremony in its current form has retained only one small remnant of its intimidating beginnings: two Latin phrases, spoken at the beginning of the ceremony by the vice chancellor (the individual who really runs Oxford), as follows.

'Insignissime Vice-Cancellarie, praesentamus tibi hos nostros scholares ut referantur in Matriculam Universitatis.'


'Scitote vos in Matriculam Universitatis hodie relatos esse, et ad observandum omnia Statuta istius Universitatis, quantum ad vos spectent, teneri.'

These mean, so I was told, that the students from the various colleges were presented for matriculation, and thereafter, that they were enrolled as students. Can anyone proffer a literal translation?

With these short phrases, a generously brief welcome speech was read by the vice chancellor during a storm of either swine-flu infected or rude-student coughing. The ceremony was short but impressive (again thought of my false priesthood robes (see post for Day 11)).

The real fun of the day was had in the morning by this absent-mindedly brilliant and very amuse-by-himself "dean of degrees" for my college reading off the names of each fresher--graduate and undergraduate--who needed to matriculate (a requirement for graduating)--see picture above. He called through the list of names as best he could, punctuated by jokes he would make or questions he would ask about unique or even usual names that were often funny only because he found them so.

As you can tell, we were all smartly dressed in robes and sub fusc for the occasion. We then marched to the Sheldonian Theatre to line up at the designated place for our college. As with graduation, the freshers matriculate by college in order of age. Even though by any U.S. standard, Lady Margaret is quite a mature college, here at Oxford, her newness is continually a point of comment. Yet the benefit here was that, being one of the newest colleges, our matriculation ceremony (there were several to accommodate all students in the small Sheldonian Theatre) was at 11:30, rather than say, 8:00 a.m.

Afterwards, the neighboring pubs were soon swarming with black and white students. I learned of a new pub - Turf. It is quite nice, with meandering court yards strewn amidst grills and flowers, but it was incredibly crowded with what I learned to be a few quite rude undergraduates (I guess that's what happens when you let 18 year olds drink?). Thankful for our quite corner, I enjoyed a meal with my new co-matriculants before heading back to college for the obligatory freshers' pictures.

The lesson of the day for me came within the few words of the vice chancellor. He encouraged us all to create a very diverse group of friends. For this aspect of Oxford--and what we would learn from it-- was just as important as anything else. I agree. It is much easier to make friends with people of the same kiln. Yet I learn so much when I seek to know--really know--those of different colors, classes, and disciplines than myself. Here's to an Oxford education - both the kind I will get in the classroom and around tables at dry (at least for me!) pubs.

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