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Degrees of separation: two very different varsities are a study ...


Degrees of separation: two very different varsities are a study in change

Contrasting graduation ceremonies at UCT and Stellenbosch offer insights into the state of education


Last week, on successive days, I sat on the stage at two graduation ceremonies, one in Stellenbosch and the other in Cape Town. I might as well have travelled between two countries. The Stellenbosch University (SU) ceremony was mostly solemn, the silence punctuated by very brief and occasional shouts of African joy. The stage was like a Dutch Reformed Church pulpit, high and lifted up towards the heavens. Graduates ascended steep steps to arrive on top for their capping glory. A moment of silence replaced the century-old tradition of Christian prayer. The ceremony was conducted almost self-consciously between Afrikaans and English with an extended word of welcome in isiXhosa.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) ceremony was pure African joy, from the beating African drums welcoming the long procession to the Imbongi (Xhosa praise poet) and the two gifted African vocalists. In this lively performance of African culture, no other community mattered in an otherwise diverse city and campus. A few short steps took you to the graduation platform. There was no symbolic moment of silence for prayer or reflection and the ceremony proceeded in English except of course for the praise poet’s intercession.

The two ceremonies nevertheless offered profound insights into the state of education in SA...

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