getting ready for the academic processionThe speech went great, the ceremony was impressive, the robes, the procession and the setting exactly like Hogwarts. Before the ceremony the rector smiled to me and to my surprise knew just who I was. She patted my shoulder, thanked me for agreeing to give the speech, and told me she was sure it would be great. Her smile and manner towards me was just like that of a loving aunt or a friend of my mother’s, one of those experienced women who’ve watched you grow up and take pride in your success. Her gown was of deep red velvet with ermine edgings like a queen’s, and her speech was a celebration of women’s progress in academia. 47% of the new doctores were women last semester. Rektor reminded us that it’s a hundred years since the first woman was awarded a doctoral degree in Bergen. After receiving her degree, Clara Holst contined her research abroad but on returning to Bergen, she was only given two half-year teaching contracts. She retired completely from academia when she was just forty and nothing more is known of her life.

It still isn’t easy for women to remain in academia: only 13% of full professors are women. That number hasn’t increased a lot in the last decade, despite the female-friendly Norweigan rules that award full professorships based on merit rather than available positions, and despite the growing numbers of women taking doctoral degrees.

After the ceremony the university newsletter journalist snapped photos of me and my daughter, as we were sitting chummily discussing how best to manoeuvre drinks and foods at a reception. I wish I’d been better able to answer her questions about how to get more female professors. Today I wrote her an email, telling her how much it meant to me that the rektor of the university patted my shoulder and smiled. Men have given me amazing support, don’t get me wrong. Without Espen‘s belief in me and his steadfast pushing me into situations I didn’t realise I could master I doubt I’d have realised I could start a PhD, let alone finish one so successfully. But I think rektor‘s pat on the shoulder was the very first time I’ve experienced motherly support in the university. And I really liked it.

When I have thirty years more experience than I have today, I’m going to be a motherly, encouraging professor. I’m going to encourage young women and men to succeed and I’ll smile to them when they do as though I’ve watched them grow up and share their parents’ pride in them.

3 thoughts on “ceremony

  1. Alex Halavais

    I do enjoy the pomp of commencement. It brings out the best in academics, I think. It’s also encouraging to hear such hopeful and inspiring words from the freshly minted!

  2. Jill

    So what is commencement exactly? I always assumed it was the start of a new school year – is it actually graduations?

  3. steve

    Commencement is graduation, though that always seemed funny to me. I guess what’s ‘commencing’ is the rest of your post-student life. Until you decide to commence the march toward another commencement, anyway.

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