Saturday, January 24, 2004

Hand in hand

"Can I hold your hand?" the honourable member of the board of the University asked her friend next to her. The academic procession, the procession that opened and ended the promotion, was strangely reminiscent of the lines we stood in at school waiting to be led back into the classroom after a break. I stood just behind the six members of the administrative board, first of the righthand line of Doctores, with Jill just behind me clutching her speech.

With a touch of cynicism I commented that this was the first, and probably the last time I wore a robe in an academic procession. A member of the board turned and grinned at me, pointing out that: "You can never know." Jill fell in love with the velvet robe of the headmaster, while I mostly worried whether I would remember the prior instructions. "Walk to the podium when the dean tells you to come forwards. Stand with the other Doctores on the podium. Step up to the headmaster and the university director when your name is called. Face the audience while the dean introduces you to the audience. Shake the hand of the headmaster and director when you get your diploma. Walk back to the others on the podium. Wait until all are done. Shake the hand of the dean as you pass him on your way back to your seat. Take the inside seat, because Jill needs the outside seat to get up and do her speech."

I almost started to cry during Jill's speech. She talked about starting out green and insecure. That was me. I never thought I would do it, I had absolutely no confidence in my academic ability, and although I was in the same office I had used for 7 years already and so knew perfectly well where the office equipment was stored I fell into a depression that lasted large parts of the first year. And here I was, clutching my diploma. My father was barely literate, and yet here I sat in this hall, holding in my lap the highest degree the Norwegian educational system could give me. He would have been making a fool of himself if he had been there. He would have videotaped everything, he would have been talking too loudly, he would have drunk too much of the white wine and shook hands, his calloused hands, hard as horn, against the soft and dainty hands of professors and deans. I missed him desperately, painfully aware that he would have understood nothing but been beaming with barbaric pride.

"That is my boy" the mother of my colleague pointed out to somebody who asked a question, "and the colour on his shoulder is purple. He is in media." "My parents are here," Jill told me. Perhaps out of solidarity she muttered "I don't think this is so important that they needed to be here, but they insisted." "I would have travelled much further than this for Erla's promotion" I assured her. But afterwards it was time to party, and after a dinner of tapas with Jill and Kate, my other Australian friend in Bergen, a little nap in the hotel room, it was time to celebrate Hilde's birthday. We celebrated and celebrated and celebrated, while Hilde's boyfriend carried booze and killed a large amount of the most highly specialised braincells in Bergen.

So many braincells died that night that the next morning, hurrying to reach the plane back home, I forgot the diploma that had made me weep the day before. It was found in the hotel though, and will soon be here.