The Graduation Ceremony


I was one of those students who took the solemn decision not to attend my first degree graduation at UDW, back in the 1980s in agreement with the decision taken by the student resistance movement. My mother was beside herself in anger because I was the second son who decided not to attend. The other was my brother Dr Pravin Thakur who also boycotted, a few years previously.

There was consternation in my township about graduation. You were the first science graduate! Why not allow us to celebrate this? The question to me, was why and how was it that I was the first? The consternation seemed non-sensical and illogical.

Boycotting a graduation, or graduating in absentia is a self-sacrifice which demonstrates a purposeful commitment. It is in my a view  a telling way to demonstrate anger and objection. That so many graduates did this, during the struggle, showed unity of purpose. The issue of attendance versus non-attendance was a paradox to me, because I simply could not find within myself to be critical of friends who chose to attend.

To right this wrong, a  special event was held for all the boycotters to attend. I am told this was a  moving ceremony. By choosing not to go to this repeat event, I to some extent boycotted, this as well. This time however it was  less wilfully. Why did I not attend the second ceremonial event? Tell the truth I really wanted to go there if only to really see who else boycotted, and to meet old comrades. Declaration my brother, Dr Pravin Thakur was one of the organisers of the special event. I passed with (apparently) a rare Distinction in Computer Science in those days while he had a distinction in History – so the Thakurs would have had a really good day at the event. My mother was now half-happy yet she remained mad as hell with me.

Not going is or was simply not going. Once the event is over, the horse has bolted. The folk that we boycotted for in the 80’s still did not have their lot improved when the second ceremony was held in the 1997. Regime change, yes but lifestyle change, no. The folk that attended received a letter affirming the graduate, welcoming them  and apologising for the distress to those who alternatively attended and boycotted.

I did attend my Doctoral graduation, even though I did not have a party. It was punishment to myself for not fulfilling my mother’s wish to complete this in her lifetime as she died while I was undertaking the study.

I would have thought that Julius’s Malemas EFF at the very least toyed with the idea of boycotting graduations, especially within the #RhodesMustFall and the decolinising narrative.  Perhaps they remain seduced by education and the joy of the recent graduations of Malema and Dr Mbuyiseni Ndloziare and Floyd Shivambu. The Black Opinion blog,  tongue firmly in cheek, asked of Malema, “Questions are being asked whether adorning the medieval garb and bowing to the ghosts of the colonial academy is consistent with the revolutionary call for decolonization.”

Njaulo Ntombela reminded me when he walked his great grandmother across the UKZN stage that graduation is much more about family and society then the ceremonial event.   Mrs Thembeni Bridget Ngcobo, mother of four and grandmother, stayed 70 km away from her family  as a full-time student and still achieved 27 distinctions with a Dean’s Merit award in her Bachelor of Technology (Btech) in Nursing Science at the Pietermaritzburg graduation ceremony at DUT.

The pomp and splendour of graduation makes the event in vogue all over again as I wait for the day to watch my post-graduate students and children graduate. 

Start studying today – it is never too late– the purpose is the joy of people around you when they acknowledge you because when they leave us, the Champagne fizz goes with them. It is too late then.

Dr Colin Thakur is a digital activist who is committed to the dream of “one person, one connected device.” He is the KZN e-Skills CoLab Director, located at the Durban University of Technology.