My comments are in blue.
Several months ago, after much effort, I succeeded in finishing my Master’s degree. As per University protocol, my graduation ceremony was held as a joint ceremony for several of the schools within my faculty - thus while there were less than fifteen other Master’s graduates, there were over two hundred Undergraduates. This particular University does not distinguish school or faculty within the academic dress code, rather the level of degree determines the colouring and style. For example, all Bachelor’s students wore black and white while Doctoral students wore black and red in a different style. While there was quite a bit of freedom regarding what was worn beneath the robes the only difference between the robes of like graduands were stoles denoting previous achievements (such as graduate certificates for example) and, if desired, traditional heritage. Should a graduate wish to honour their indigenous or islander heritage an appropriate stole would be worn, which while distinctive would not overly disrupt the uniformity of the academic dress. Not many graduates at my ceremony had opted to wear such stoles. I only mention this as it explains my thought process throughout the following events.
The ceremony itself was like many others of its type – graduands were lined up and seated according to the order the degrees were to be presented. After the name was announced, the graduate would walk to the middle of the stage to receive the award before exiting via the opposite side of the stage and returning to their seat. Large monitors were set up to display whichever graduate was receiving their award at the time, in order to give them their moment of recognition.
As the order of ceremony put the post-graduate degrees at the beginning of the event, after receiving my degree and reseating myself I had the opportunity to watch those following me. I was keeping amused by observing what each graduate was wearing, as many had put a great deal of effort into their appearance. Not all of it was practical – I saw more than one girl in stilettos nearly topple during the handshake due to strapless tops not having any points to which robes could attach to stop them from slipping down. I was appreciating a very nice headscarf (carefully chosen to match the robes) when I noticed one of the graduates wearing a heritage stole. I couldn’t quite place the pattern as it wasn’t one of the typical indigenous patterns so I kept an eye on the person as they moved forward, hoping their name might give a clue.
Moments after their name was read out and the person began to move across stage there came a loud shout from the audience. Having got the attention of the graduate the audience members then started to perform a Haka at full volume! For those not familiar with the term, the Haka is a Maori dance which involves a great deal of shouting, tongue baring and threatening movements. While originally a war dance it is now often performed prior to sporting events and the like. Most of the audience would have had enough familiarity with the practice to recognize it.
The Haka stopped after a line or two, and while I thought it rude I also accepted that it was most likely a heartfelt expression of pride. Fair enough. It gave the ceremony a bit of spice. However after a moment’s pause it began again. The Haka got increasingly louder, the poor graduate’s face became more and more strained, and the ceremony was at a standstill. It would hardly be fair to attempt to announce the next graduate over the noise from the dancers! Then the camera operator proceeded to turn the stage cameras towards the dancers. Certainly they now had the full hall’s attention! Eventually after about five minutes the dance ended, there was a moment of silence to ensure that it really had finished, then polite applause for the graduate and the ceremony moved on.
This was a recognition ceremony for ALL the graduates. We accepted that as a part of this form of ceremony that we would be sharing our moment of success with our fellow graduates and their families. We each knew that we would have our moment in the spotlight. While I appreciate that they wished to show their support for their graduate, and emphasize their pride in your heritage, could it not have waited for a better time? How does the graduate announced afterwards feel, having their long awaited moment of triumph delayed? How do the academic staff presenting feel to have the carefully orchestrated ceremony disrupted in such a manner? How did their graduate feel having the spotlight for an extended period of time, while KNOWING that it was disrespectful to everyone else graduating that day? Yes he was smiling, but I’ve seen less fixed expressions on statues. This was the culmination of over three year’s work for most of the graduates – their moment to shine! Instead the attention was fully centered upon this group of guests while a hundred graduates waited!
To the mystery Haka dancers: Yes, you think your graduate is special. Yes you are proud of him. But by doing what you have you implied that he was the ONLY special one. That the work of every other student in that hall was less worthy than his. While I did not have as much emotionally invested in this ceremony as others I can imagine how hurt some must feel. This was a highly disrespectful action – Not only to myself and all the other graduates, but to your graduate as well.
Were the actions of the camera operator appropriate? While giving attention to poor behaviour is not to be encouraged, would keeping the camera focussed upon the stage have created an even more awkward situation? 0208-10
When my sister was in middle school, performing in a chorus recital, a parent yelled "heyyy!" when her daughter got a brief solo part. At first, it was cute. But then the "HEYYY!" started getting shouted after every single line of the song, whether by the daughter or others. The poor kid was mortified, other parents and audience members annoyed, and the offending parent oblivious. I think a brief bout of cheers or chants is perfectly fine to show pride at an event, but yes, people should not hijack a celebration.