In spite of the cold, grey, wet and generally depressing Brighton weather, last week's mid sessional degree ceremony at Sussex University was sensational. There will not be any stock shots of new graduates throwing their mortar boards to the skies - but the memories and DVD of the event will be priceless. This is mainly down to the personality and professionalism of one man, Sanjeev Bhaskar the Chancellor of the University of Sussex.
For all lovers of transition, the graduation event, when properly done, involves ritual and pageantry blended with some modern influences reflecting the particular moment in time. And this ceremony got it just right. The academics processed properly behind the mace, but in X factor style some of the platform party whooped, hollered and gave their students a standing ovation as they received their IOU a proper certificate.
The university's radical tradition was upheld as 2 or 3 students hugged Sanjeev, walked across the stage but refused to shake the Vice Chancellor’s hand; echoes of Ferdinand and Terry?
It was life affirming when the honorary doctorate was presented to Professor Stephen Whittle, thought to be female at birth, actually male and his long long battle for social and legal acceptance as a man – he gave a wonderful matter of fact account of an extraordinary life.
And through all this presided the wisdom, wit and style of Sanjeev Bhaskar. At the outset he promised the graduands he would give them love particularly to those whose friends and family weren't able to make it - and they took him at his word. When previously did graduands race across the stage into the arms of a resplendently robed dignatory, hug him and pose for photos taken by their supporters in the gallery - or, for some the apotheosis of style, take selfies on stage arms around the Chancellor - yet throughout it all, not one scrap was lost from the dignity of office - quite the opposite - the pastoral range and reach of the post grew, as the audience sensed this chapter of life was closing in just the right and quite special way.
As all the wonderful student nonsense ended (and it never got out of hand) so Sanjeev’s advice to students followed - stories of mice in milk and tips on freezing the water you cook vegetables in for stock cubes had them rocking in the aisles and uniquely, ' Leaving school, Sussex was my first choice but I didn't get the grades. - not academic enough - well I came back a few years later. As Chancellor. Unpredictable me.’
Did they get it? We discussed this as the point of the visit, my daughter Katie, talked radiantly of the warmth of the occasion. All I remember about mine was being swiped with John Knox’s knickers so this one didn’t have a lot to beat. This was a graduation ceremony with a feel good factor - it could have been mortar boards in the mud but we felt reinvigorated yet grounded; and in the real sense, not the X factor debased sense, inspired.