• Paul Rutherford


Last Thursday was a good day. Really, it was.

The sun wasn't baking. We had a reasonable view. The man weeding the grass was something to watch while nothing else happened.

They aren't the usual marks of a graduation ceremony. But it wasn't a usual graduation.

Strictly speaking, our daughter K received her degree from the University of Southampton in the middle of 2020. Unfortunately, we were all in the middle of the UK's first covid lock-down.

That continued through 2021. Another year of figuring out how to engage with the world via Zoom. And wondering if K would ever have her moment of recognition (beyond that of her ever-doting parents)?

Then the world - including the UoS academia - got back into its collective saddle. There was to be a celebration of exam success.

'The good news, K - we'd like the 2020 students to attend their graduation.

'The other news is that you'll be sharing it with 2021 and the new 2022 graduands. Somewhere between 11,000 - 12,000 of our most valued students.'

Organizing three years' of Bachelors and Masters, Diplomas and Doctorates, from 40 departments and nearly 900 subjects. Ten two-hour sessions over three days. Wednesday (x3) and Thursday (x3) mixing 2020 and 2021 for each faculty. Friday (x4) was solely for this year.

If I was wearing my mortar board (it didn't go back to the rental company in 1984), I'd doff it to the UoS 'Vice President' and 'Executive Director of Student Experience'. With a message about their inflated job titles.

Full marks for doing it at all, especially when the usual venue - the Nuffield Theatre on campus - had two problems. One: its size - way too small for the expected audiences. Two: it went into administration in 2020, along with the larger Nuffield theatre in the city centre.

'So where else can we sit a lot of people, offer access for fast turn-around, is local, and hasn't gone broke during lock-down?'

Enter Southampton Football Club, owner of St. Mary's Stadium.

Sure, it lacks the historic gravitas of Oxford's Sheldonian or Durham's Great Hall. But as Southampton (one of the world's Top 100 universities) is only 70-years old, a modern venue solving a very modern problem seemed entirely fitting.

And yet, and yet... for an attendee not involved in the preparation, dropped stitches kept appearing: The booked tickets that didn't arrive until after the event; the recommended ticket office that was shuttered on the day; the subsequent queues that snaked longer than attendance at a Cup Final; rows of 'Reserved' seats that remained empty.

Throughout the 'ceremony' - and there really wasn't anything ceremonial about it - two qualities kept surfacing: Speed and cost.

  • Get the graduates on and off the platform as quickly as possible.

  • The Pro-Chancellor we saw spoke for a couple of minutes, with few words of wisdom for the new generation.

  • No memorial programme for the day or the session. (Implication: If you want one, it's digitally available. You can print your own.)

All in all, full marks for enabling this to happen at all. Complicated logistics, a venue out of the University's control, the unknown unknowns of the numbers attending.

But in designing the days, it was two simple non-verbal decisions had the biggest impact on many of the graduates: No handshake with a senior academic, and no name call.

U.O.S (after ABBA)


Where are those happy days? They seem so long ago.

I hoped to re-capture my undergrad gusto.

Your ce-re-mony promised me

a celebration time.

Instead I crossed the stage as if committing crime.


I'm not a snowflake - Uni, I could handshake.


When you proclaim me - Uni, can't you name me?


Now I've gone

Absentee, instantly

I'm anon.

Now I've gone

Instantly, nobody,

I'm anon.


Where are those happy days, when Uni times were good?

We sweated through small hours towards our adulthood.

Then in-ter-rupted by Covid

we studied through lock-down

Kept going by a dream:

A mortar board and gown.


We are not snowflakes - Uni, we'd like handshakes.


When you proclaimed us - Uni, you miss named us.


Now we've gone

BScs, PhDs

We're anon.

Now we're gone

Departees, shes and hes,

We're anon.

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