Sunday, August 28, 2011

Convocating without a cause

There were about thirty of them, the average age of the group being over 50 years. They paraded from the entrance of the long hall to the dais, donning a serious sober look. Holding long poles in hand, they marched to the beat of inspiring music, watched by over 5000 parents, faculty and students like me. Of course, this was not the first time we were seeing these men and women walking past us  - they were after all our Deans, Heads of Departments and Board of Directors of the institution - the very people we had waited for, for long hours to get a vacation pass signed, or to get interrogated for disciplinary action and the very people whom we had at various points in time, made fun of, loathed and heard the long boring speeches of.

Watching them pose so dignified, holding flags and draped in silk shawls was pretty unprecedented though. Not that the students themselves were present there in any less a new avatar. The room was filled with over four thousand students, all clad in either an off-white traditional Kerala sari or  a white shirt with dhoti, depending on the gender of course. For these students, it was an important day.  Period. Nothing, not even the funny men, was going to change that. Why is it so important?, you ask them. They stare back at you in disbelief. What a ridiculous question! Duh! It is my convocation!

Convocation - the day when you finally put a full stop to the long years of study and are aptly rewarded with a glossy degree.  Okay, that was the easy part. But whats with the overwhelmed looks,hugs, ,congratulations , "Wow, I am so happy for you"s and   ear splitting shrieks of Yeaaaaaayyy.?Frankly, I think I am missing something. 

Firstly, it seems to me like you are downgrading your own brain capacity. A wow-I-can't-believe-I-finished-the-course thought - the kind of thought that passes through your head when you see that you have cleared that extremely unfathomable exam for which you generously donated gibberish answers. At the risk of sounding too opinionated, I really think it is no big deal getting a degree these days. I mean, it is not a herculean challenge. I mean it. I have done my engineering and now am doing a humanities course. My classmates here think that Engineering is another planet - a planet full of Grey matter with walking computers, who see the world with the eyes of Maths and Science. Bull Shit. Of course, Engineering is any day more demanding in terms of time and work compared to an arts course. I mean, here you can bullshit with liberation. 

Imagine walking into an examination hall totally unprepared and getting your communication theory paper. You stare at the first question. 

What is socio-emotional theory?

Of course, you don't know the answer. You were watching Vampire Diaries the whole night. But wait! maybe there is a way out.

It is a theory where we combine the social and emotional aspects of the environment and take it into consideration on predicting the responses of a human.

Bluff. Complete bluff. You might probably still get half a mark. And chances are, if you had even remotely listened to the broad context of the topic, you could write a full 16 marks worth answer. Liberalization, Globalization, Ill effects of advertising, power of media - of course, anyone can spin a yarn on these kind of topics.

Can you imagine doing the same for Mass Transfer or Solid Mechanics?

Explain the Elasticity Quotient.

Elasticity Quotient is a factor in the measurement of elasticity. Elasticity is an important part of life. Rubber bands are elastic. Springs are elastic. Why, even a surgeon's gloves are elastic. One cannot imagine a world without elasticity. Then no girl would be able to tie her hair in a pony tail. Ick! The short form of this can be EQ. EQ also means Emotional Quotient. It is said to be very important in relationship development..

Well, okay, that was a bit exaggerated but you got my point. So, yes, definitely a lot more learning HAS to happen in an Engineering course. Yet that doesn't mean we sit experimenting with engines and computers every waking hour. In fact, what the course really does to you is increase your grasping power, short-term memory and most importantly, your cramming capacity. 

 Almost 90% of the students I knew at college started to open their books only a few weeks before the exam and from then on, it was a marathon race for the brain, loaded everyday with pages and pages of theorems and logic. And it was enough. Not just enough to clear the paper but also get good enough grades. Ask any Engineering student and he will agree.

 The only ones who failed to graduate with their class and kept coming back to write their exams were not the ones who were IQ challenged but those who never cared...never cared about the course, never cared about attendance and never cared about writing exams again with their juniors. And such types would have flunked anywhere anyway, Engineering or Literature. All one needed, hence, was a bit of effort and a bit of conscientiousness. There was hardly any application oriented tasks or immensely challenging process. 

So really, what is the big deal of getting a degree in the convocation?

Then, there are those who seethe with an aggressive vengeance, given a chance. I have seen students who, a minute after the final exams, flung their books up in their air with the rigor of a shot-put pro and some others who said they couldn't wait to get back home and throw the notes away; almost as if these poor white sheets which they filled in the first place were demons in disguise who wreaked havoc in a malicious spell. This kind is happy to be saying good bye to studies on the eve of their convocation. The reasoning is clearer in this case, I agree. The burden you loathed is finally out. However, what they do not realize is that learning is not something that can shrugged off after a phase. 

No, I am not preaching life-long education and value system and wisdom for living and all that. I am merely tell you the fact that no one can survive in today's competitive job scenario without continuous learning. Maybe it was the concept of 'examination' that posed a torture. A dreadful two weeks without sleep, TV and peace of mind. Of course, that doesn't exist in a career, mostly. Yet, far worse things do. 

In my opinion, a convocation is merely a day to bid good-bye. Good-bye to a phase that taught far more things outside the classroom than inside it, a phase where for once people's worth was not measured by the money they took back home and a phase when we could weave beautiful relationships in an atmosphere that imposed no daily pressure to perform and prove ourselves. 

It is simply a day to pause and become more aware of the impending transition. Nostalgia? Recommended. Congratulations? For what?!


CHIBI said...

Beautiful.. as always.!

I too thought Convocation was no big deal and almost skipped it for my masters degree.. if not for a friend who talked me into it.. I might have missed a very special occasion.

It was such a special feeling, to be wearing that gown. getting degree from a chief guest and to top it, friends cheering for you from a far corner. it was amazing.. a very special day indeed for me.a day i'd remember for a longtime.. not often do people get such recognition and specialness.

truly like you said.. Convocation is not about completing the degree. it's about making us feel complete about college/grad life.

also, I have written theory in a maths exam(probability and statistics) and passed, thanks to the weird anna univ corrections.. so engineering is not as fancy as people think. esp. biotech is a false gimmick in engineering as an alternate to IT.

Abhishek said...

" My classmates here think that engineering is ..... with the eyes of maths and science . "

- Whose to say it isn't ! I mean my dad's side has got more than its cut of engineers , and the last time I checked , the textbooks ( not 1 , but 4 !!!! ) were 600 pages of equations , and theorums !!! 600 pages !!!!!

I'm not saying mass communication is easy , but hey ! you get to make it up as you go along , which is *a lot* easier than increasing your " cramming capacity " .

As for convocation , I gather you mean to say , that it became the day where you walked out of the doors of the institution to start out for yourself ( equipped with a degree ) .

Great work on the new post !

The Visitor said...


Written with a lot of fervour, I presume.

...a phase that taught far more things outside the classroom than inside it, ...

An aside and thinking aloud...

The only ones who failed to graduate with their class and kept coming back to write their exams were not the ones who were IQ challenged but those who never cared...never cared about the course, never cared about attendance and never cared about writing exams again with their juniors.

Why did they never care? What were their circumstances? It perturbs me.


Sindu said...

@CHIBI: Thank you Chibi! :) I should also thank you for bringing up a very important point - recognition and specialness. True...occasions - be it weddings or birthday parties or convocations have this special design element in them to make an individual feel special and cherished.

As for the Engineering education we had with Anna Univ, the lesser said, the better, right? :)

Sindu said...

@Abhishek: Sweetheart, I do not know where they did their engineering. Yet, barring the IIT, I speak for almost every engineering institution in Tamil Nadu. Yes, even I had many books the size of a pillow. However, we hardly had 50 pages marked to learn from them during an entire semester.

I respect the field and think Engineers are doing a brilliant work today. However, I believe most of it was learnt on the job.

Sindu said...

@ The Visitor: Fervour? Hmmm. I don't know. Actually, this was not what I intended to write when I started. I wanted to discuss why certain practices such as lighting the lamp and declaring functions open were so important. I wanted to move on to symbolism and its implications. But well, here I am! Blame it on the stream of consciousness. :)

Why did they never care? You just gave me a brilliant line of thought to pursue - one that deserves a really long post. When would one have nil fear of the future? Either they have a sound alternate plan for the future or rank extremely low on the 'Big 5' personality trait of conscientiousness. Well, I am just guessing.

Anonymous said...

Blame it on the stream of consciousness. :)
The mouth speaks what the mind thinks. :)

If there were unborn thoughts - they needed more time to mature, before they are brought forth into the world.


PS: I'd appreciate a link to the 'Big 5' personality traits. A further question - what moulds personality?

nonchalant psyche said...

v studied in a cllg that had farewell for shifting from sem1 to 2 remember? there was cake cutting & photo session. nothing can be as appalling as these acts! i saw girls in my class crying. didnt they realise they will be just a block away??? btw were you one of those ppl? ;-)

maybe we celebrate a lot? look how we are celebrating anna breaking the fast. i still dont get the pt! they havent passed the bill! Take history - we celebrate ram's victory over ravana - what for? ppl in srilanka are the only 1 to benefit rite? its not like ravana ruled ayodhya as well. lol

CHIBI said...

@ sindu : yes, of course. Anna univ syllabus leaves students gasping for breath before they finish a semester.

for the carelessness regarding arrears, i knew some students who were excellent in other field, but chose a different major and didn't know there was a concept of 'changing majors' hence got stuck with it and kept adding arrears.

Sindu said...

@V : Ahaan. Lot of unborn thoughts... too less time left to wait for them to mature at their own pace, isn't it? :)

And as for the Big Five traits, well you already must have seen a few links, I presume. However, I am not able to find one link that explains it all beautifully. My understanding of this topic, which also happens to be a personal favorite, happened over time, reading a lot of pages on it. I suggest you try the same. :)

Sindu said...

@NP: Ahem... :D But then, farewell is different from convocation. You are speaking about the emotion at separation. I am talking about the pride in getting a degree. Personally, I still think I would support the former. Huh, what do you know, 'thinker'? ;P

However yes, I agree. We, as a culture, celebrate a lot! Good point!

nonchalant psyche said...

guess my disinterest for convocation influenced my mind to not ans that convo part :D

warning: again am gonna start with a we here :)

i feel ppl like us who arnt into engg as we reached the very end of engg course, stand outside of the hoopla and see the events as they unfold. maybe if we were emotionally attached to the course we would have had a sense of celebration of completing our goal. certainly the words uttered wldnt be 'never thought i cld make it'.
Nevertheless a sense of happiness on finishing something shld always be celebrated :)

Natarajan Sundaram said...


All those commented here spoke some thing so intellectual or thought-worthy statements. But seriously saying, i just loved the way its written. so true about all the statements.

The best of it was the definition of "Elasticity Quotient". wow!!

Keep writing Sindu...