01 June 2011

Mr Monk's worst nightmare

In almost every discussion about TV detective Mr Monk that I have participated in someone confessed that they did not consider Mr Monk's behaviour that odd - and that they certainly did some of the things that made Mr Monk such a funny being.  I am one of those who often make such a claim.

At our graduation ceremonies (at the University of Pretoria) various people are involved in getting degrees awarded.  If one ignores those who (do the real) work behind the scenes, there are four primary tasks: the dean introduces the candidate to the chancellor, vice-chancellor or vice-principal.  This person awards the degree by tapping the new graduate on the head with a cap.  Next, the hood is placed on the graduate and finally someone shakes the graduate's hand to congratulate him or her with the achievement.  At our most recent ceremony the dubious honour of performing this latter task fell on me.  As I looked at the audience that included 300 odd graduands I considered my options.  Wearing a glove seemed inappropriate.  Wiping one's hands after each handshake seemed both inappropriate and impractical.  The only solution was to grin and bear it.

A slightly more important question was the one about the reason for including a 'handshaker' in the chain of events.  Everything else has ceremonial significance.  Shaking hands seems so ordinary after introduction, capping and hooding.  It took me less than five handshakes to figure out what the real purpose of the handshaker is.  The graduands are expressly told about the four acts on stage, but many clearly only register the first three important steps.  So they get introduced, capped and hooded - and then realise that they are on a stage and do not know what to do next.  It is the handshaker's duty to hold a hand out to them, say something that sounds like "congratulations" and then literally pull them to the edge of the stage so that they can leave and make space for the next graduate who is already approaching.  I am sure that this true duty of the handshaker is not described in any formal manual on academic protocol - and hence I decided to disclose the truth on my blog.

Finding purpose in my duty actually made the task fun.  And the graduates did deserve the congratulations.

The very first degree awarded at the ceremony was an honorary doctorate awarded to Dr Fred Cohen - he is the one in the picture on above in the red gown.  For him my task was slightly different: Since he was seated on stage I had to direct him back towards his spot on the stage (and ensure that he did not leave the stage because he still had to give his acceptance speech).  I also got to hand him his degree certificate (which is normally an administrative event once the graduate has left the stage).  In the picture on the left I am about to hand him his degree certificate.  I am dressed in the regalia of the Head of the Department of Computer Science - a role that I played in an acting capacity for a few days at the time of the graduation ceremony.  It was this 'acting' role that got me into the position as handshaker for the day as well...