Saturday, 3 August 2013

Baccalaurei in Turbamentum

Today I graduated from the University of Oxford. It didn't go quite as smoothly as I'd envisioned, but somehow, despite trips and stumbles on the way, I officially have my Bachelor of Arts degree. Hooray! 

The ceremony is a very solemn affair. It's held at the Sheldonian Theatre, a D-shaped building on Broad Street. For those of you who have a copy of The Bone Season, it's marked on the Sheol I map as the Old Theatre, just off the Rookery.


Most of the ceremony is conducted in Latin, because – in the words of the Vice-Chancellor – the university still upholds the same values as it did when it was established. Of course, it also means the people graduating don't really know what's happening for about eighty percent of the proceedings. This leads to many a minor slip-up: graduands getting up at the wrong time, awkward pauses when a response is expected, and nine year-old siblings getting bored in the gallery. There's also quite a lot of cap-doffing, smiling and bowing between speeches. It's very surreal. The graduands also enter the hall in what's known as 'crocodile formation'. You start off wearing the robes of your original status – for me, an undergraduate commoner, i.e. the lowest rank in the university – and change into your new robes about halfway through the ceremony, after you've been given the right to all the superpowers and privileges of your new degree, which include exciting things like The Power to Give Lectures. After that point we were permitted to put on our new Bachelor of Arts robes, which had fluffy white collars. 

Of course, me being me, and the ceremony being an extremely solemn and ordered event, something went amiss. 

When we arrived at college before heading to the Sheldonian, we were all supposed to sign the 'degree list' and pick up tickets for the ceremony. Now, this tiny little administration point had been flagged to us via email, but at no point did I twig its importance. It just completely slipped my mind. Only my mind. Nobody else's mind. When we got to the Sheldonian, my internal alarm bells started ringing when the Dean of Degrees came in and took all our names. Near the end, he said vaguely, '. . .and Samantha Shannon-Jones isn't here . . .'

'Yes, I am,' I squeaked. 

The Dean of Degrees blinked. He looked again at his paperwork. He looked back at me. 'You must have been late,' he said, visibly puzzled.

'No.'

And so the Dean of Degrees looked back at his papers and made a note and was gone. I shrugged it off and headed into the Sheldonian with the other candidates. We were seated, and the ceremony began. Laughter erupted when a group of students got up at the wrong time, earning deeply unimpressed looks from the Proctors. 

The time soon came for the new Bachelor of Arts graduands to receive their degrees. Names from St Anne's College were read out, one by one. They got closer and closer to surnames beginning with S. My name would be soon.

And . . . they missed it. 


Now, ever since the Dean of Degrees had thought I was late, I'd had a sinking feeling about what might happen next. But I'd also assumed that because I'd let him know I was present, he would have worked some kind of administrative magic and smoothed it all over. I felt a huge lump rise in my throat when I realised what had happened. I remembered the list I was supposed to have signed. I remembered that I'd never had a head for organisation. And I realised, with some horror, that I was about to go up and be given a degree by a university that thought I wasn't there. Tears welled up. My ever-prepared friend Richard handed me a tissue. Or five. 

We marched in lines of four to the where the Vice-Chancellor sat with the Proctors. The proceedings continued as normal until Richard whispered to the Junior Proctor that my name hadn't been read out. There was a horribly long silence as the Vice-Chancellor, Proctors and Dean of Degrees put their heads together. They shot me little glances. This was, I could tell, not something they'd encountered recently – a student so utterly, hopelessly disorganised that they hadn't put their own name down for their own degree ceremony. For about fifteen agonising seconds, you could have heard a pin drop. Would they still let me graduate? Or was I disqualified for being a downright babulus? Then, finally, the Junior Proctor stood and said: 

'Baccalaurei in Artibus – Samantha Shannon-Jones.

And sat down. 

And it was all captured on video for the DVD you could buy after the event. 


After the ceremony was over, I had to sign my name quickly on a piece of scrap paper instead. The Junior Proctor was very nice about the whole thing. 

Anyway, we all threw our hats in the air. No harm done. 

And the moral of the story is: always read the small print. Always. 

32 comments:

  1. Congrats, Samantha! Sorry to hear that the whole thing was one giant facepalm for you though. :(

    Oh well, you looked great in your robe and stuff so that's all well and good. Ten years from now, you can look back and tell yourself, "You know...it wasn't that bad. I mean my hair did look quite nice. I might have slipped up a bit but look at how nice I looked collecting my degree."

    As long as you show pictures and have the DVD hidden forever, you'll be good to go.

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    1. Ahh it's okay, makes the story more interesting. And thanks for the hair love. <3

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  2. "Only my mind. Nobody else's mind" Because, currently your mind is settled on 20th Aug, writing book 2 and busyness of this month, so it is just fine that it slipped from your mind. In the end, you have your degree. What an incredible month for you! Congratulations!

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  3. Despite the Latin, I see ceremonial standards are slipping at Oxford.

    I would have made you go back and do the whole 3 years again.

    Great to hear that you have a sense of the ridiculous.

    Macte virtute! Factum optime!

    Mac

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    1. I bet you would... to be honest I was scared they'd kick me out! And oh, yes. Life in general is quite ridiculous.

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  4. Congrats on graduating! :) Just graduated from KCL this year, so *high fives* for 2013 graduates. :)

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  5. Congratulations Samantha and i wish you the best of luck in your future, Am from the United Arab Emirates and am one of many people here waiting for your book to come out, is there an Arabic version of your book coming out soon?

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    1. Thank you! We're in discussions for an Arabic translation – really hope it reaches you in the UAE.

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  6. Well, it wasn't without a few missteps, but congratulations on graduating!

    (Also love how you just happened to have a copy of The Bone Season with you)

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    1. I was giving one to my college library. Naturally enough reason for a photo opportunity.

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    2. Ah, that explains it. But just so you know, I'm gonna imagine that you carry around an emergency copy of TBS anyway.

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  7. Ack a couple of my comments have gone MIA on the last few posts. I'm glad I double checked for this one :).

    CONGRATULATIONS, SAM!!!!! You look all sorts of fabulous in your pictures. Your robes are much fancier than mine were :).

    If it makes you feel any better I had a couple of facepalm moments at my ceremony too. Just thinking about it now makes me cringe. My pictures live in a draw so that it doesn't happen too often :P

    Congratulations on escaping essays and exams forever!

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    1. Might be the comment approval delay.

      Thank you!! And haha, those weren't even the fanciest, they're just BA gowns. People who'd just got their PhD wore red and blue, then others wore blue silk... all quite fancy.

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  8. Congrats that grad photo looking hot! ;)

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  9. Great, congratulations Samantha..
    And hey, just out of pure curiosity, would you say that your education at Oxford equipped you for writing The Bone Season? Or was it an idea that had sprouted beforehand?
    Interested,
    -Theresa

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    1. Hi Theresa,

      I became interested in Oxford as a setting when I had my interviews there. My time there equipped me in that I had a very good understanding of the city, so I knew Oxford well enough to convert it into its fantasy counterpart; it also gave me a broad understanding of literature, which I'm hoping to weave into later books – but in terms of actually writing it, no. No form of higher education is necessary to learn to write.

      Samantha

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    2. Great, thanks.
      Always interested to hear the opinions of entrepreneurial writers like yourself.
      Would you say your writing technique itself has improved a lot since Oxford?

      -Theresa

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  10. Congratulations Samantha. I've just read your article on The Guardian and as a result downloaded a preview of The Bone Season on Kindle. I'm a huge fan on Pullman and love the concept of your Paige and the urban utopian world you've designed. Look forward to purchasing the full edition later this month too.
    Keep humble as I'm sure you will; very best wishes with every challenge to come. Thank you.

    Ben

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    1. Thanks, Ben. Really hope you enjoy the full version! I consider myself very lucky to be in this position so I don't intend to become big-headed about it.

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  11. Congrats on novel and graduation. Why did you choose Irish protagonist?
    Mike (Ireland)

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    1. Thank you! I've always been interested in Ireland. The novel deals with the history of conflict between England and Ireland (albeit in a fictional future); it made sense to have an Irish protagonist.

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  12. Congratulations on your graduation! In future books, would it be possible to include the (often overlooked) former women's colleges of Oxford - for example, St Hugh's with its secret garden is waiting to be written about... And the college is also connected with a 'time slip' which is said to have influenced Tolkien http://www.kathleenmcgowan.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=52:the-mystery-of-the-versailles-time-slip&catid=38:articles&Itemid=62

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    1. Hi! The only reason I didn't write about the women's colleges is because of timeline issues. The earliest to be founded was in 1879. Unfortunately I wasn't able to include colleges that were founded post-1859 (so I wasn't even able to include my own college, St Anne's). I'm sure I'll return to Oxford at some point in my writing career, though, so I'll bear that in mind!

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    2. Please can you explain the reference to 1859 (I had thought that the book was set in 2059?) Thanks very much. P.S. The St Hugh's 'time slip' article in the original post would fit very well with the 'dreamscape' theme of the series.

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  13. Congratulations on your graduation Samantha! That's an incredible achievement indeed :)

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