The Coronavirus Graduation

Paul Waites was Vice-Chancellor for the day and I was Professor of English. You couldn’t make it up.

Two friends, Katy Crowley and Kelly Newton, had been granted a BA and MSc respectively, but because of COVID-19, there was no ceremony. The degrees came by post. You couldn’t get duller than that after all the years of study.

The parents though were having none of it. A ceremony was required so they made gowns and mortar boards, as good as the actual. Paul, as Vice-Chancellor, had gown, mortar and stole. He was in role from the beginning, serious as the hour demanded, completely inappropriate when it didn’t. At the beginning he invited the graduates to bow in recognition of their parents’ support. Now that doesn’t happen every day.

I was the warm-up act with a few words and a couple of poems. I read Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Women” which was a perfect choice for two phenomenal women.

I’m sure Katy and Kelly will remember the day more than if they had been at their universities. I loved the fact that poetry had a place. Here is a poem, The Graduation, to celebrate.


If each graduate planted a tree

the collegiate would be a wood of saplings

reaching for the sky, beseeching the rain to

come again, come again.


Strong winds make for strong boughs,

and even stronger roots as runners

of intellect, so entwined nothing

but nothing can tarnish their wonder.


And now the fun begins, sharpened elbows,

Sharper minds, learning for life

from a wood where the tall trees grow.

Shine the light. Shine the light.


If anyone wants to borrow mortars and gowns, it can be arranged. . .

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