Several times a year, Front Square becomes a flurry of black robes, airborne hats and camera flashes as Trinity’s graduates celebrate receiving academic degrees.
But for many, as the Irish Times discussed this week, the ceremony is not the day of unbridled delight that it should be. The practice of separating graduands into academic brackets – revealing the relative standing of each in terms of their grades – is self-evidently a misguided and antiquated way to run a graduation ceremony.
In the 21st century it is increasingly difficult to justify a ritual that indisputably does more harm than good. Celebrating academic achievement is certainly important, but not if it’s at the expense of others whose grades aren’t as high.
And in broader terms, graduation by grade – delivered, somewhat self-parodically, in Latin – looks unforgivably archaic when you consider that it’s being delivered by a College attempting to modernise its approach to education.
Barely two weeks ago, Provost Patrick Prendergast was standing in front of hundreds of people in the Exam Hall toasting the role Trinity has played in shaping a “more equal society – in Ireland and around the world” at the launch of a philanthropy campaign that placed great emphasis on a holistic approach to education.
Under Prendergast’s watch, Trinity has attempted to revolutionise the education it offers its undergraduates, placing a greater emphasis on continuous assessment and seeking to equip graduates with practical skills and experience.
But a graduation ceremony that ranks students by grades flies in the face of these pedagogical advancements – and is at odds with moves, such as the Trinity Access Programme, towards greater accessibility in College. For its part, the Trinity Education Project was conceived in order to create a broader understanding of education. Grouping graduands by grades achieves precisely the opposite.
In the Irish Times this week, Senator Lynn Ruane, a former President of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union, said she had to fight the “embarrassing tradition” of Trinity’s graduation. You would hope, now, that College will finally listen to its critics and call a halt to a graduation ceremony that has far outlived its purpose.