Here’s a funny thing. I was procrastinating earlier, considering where to start with this blog post.
Scrolling through the Facebook memories function* I came across this. 11 years ago Mum was awarded her PhD here in Belfast. She’s an expert in Early Years Education (…a very well qualified Granny).
Anyway. That only becomes a funny thing when you realise that this blog is about Dad being awarded his PhD yesterday in Amsterdam, and I want to tell you about it because it was AWESOME!
After a late night arrival (due to flight delays and lightning storms…!) Mum gave us a quick run through of the plan for the next day using mini chocolate fingers to represent the key players!!
We retired to bed at about 1am where I finally finished reading the thesis by torchlight. What on earth for, I hear you say?
Doctorate graduation from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is not at all like it is here in the UK. When the PhD candidate submits their thesis, they must defend their work to a panel of five academic opponents**, after which the award is made. This takes place at a formal ceremony called the Promotion at which the candidate is accompanied by two paranymphs. Yes, you read that right.
The paranymphs are there to step in and answer the opponents’ questions in the event the candidate becomes incapacitated during their defence. Obviously, that’s a priority over (for example) calling an ambulance!!
Dad asked Cathy*** and me to be his paranymphs. And that’s why I was frantically reading this book under the covers at 2.30am on the day of the ceremony…
Promotion day dawned early and, on arrival at the Vrije Universiteit, we met the Beadle who is the Master of Ceremonies. She talked us through the formalities of the next hour or so; we peeped into the HUGE auditorium where the Promotion would take place; and then it was all underway.
First we were led by the Beadle (we quickly learnt to follow her everywhere!) to a boardroom where the platform party, led by the Rector Magnificus, were assembled. The group included Dad’s Promoters (his PhD supervisors) and five highly regarded academic opponents. Once Dad introduced us and confirmed his candidacy for Doctor of Philosphy, we processed down to the Aula (auditorium) and assumed our positions on stage. Eeeek.
Dad was invited to provide a short introduction to his research, which he duly did. By now Cathy and I were getting nervous. The questions were looming…so I distracted myself by doing some pelvic floor exercises (don’t often sit still long enough to do those!) and before I knew it the opposition had begun.
With Dad in full flow, discussing, clarifying, and giving practical illustrations the time flew by. He engaged with the panel, all of whom complimented him on the quality of his work, and his responses were met by nods and smiles all round.
Suddenly, silently the Beadle was back. Her role is to stop the Promotion after exactly an hour by banging her mace on the ground and calling out, ‘Hora est’, before leading the platform panel out to consider their verdict.
After a few nervous minutes (and a sneaky apple juice) we were summoned into the boardroom to face the panel. I wish I could have recorded the next few minutes, because my narrative will never do it justice.
The Rector Magnificus congratulated Dad on his Promotion to Doctor of Philosophy and invited him to sign the ledger of candidates, confirming that his PhD was all his own work.
She added that the panel wished to recognise his outstanding ability by conferring the unusual distinction of Cum Laude.
Dad’s face was a picture (no doubt the same could be said of the paranymphs). He put his head in his hands and there was silence as the platform panel all grinned in delight. Raising his head, he said, ‘Wow. Thank you.’. To which the Rector Magnificus responded, ‘You do not need to thank us. It is simply to recognise your work.’
We rose and processed back into the Aula where Dad’s supporters in the auditorium actually whooped and cheered when the Cum Laude award was announced! To top it all off, the wonderful Parush (Dad’s looooooooong suffering supervisor) then gave an emotional laudation.
It’s eye opening, discovering one’s own Dad is an intellectual giant in his field.
And not in the least surprising that, when he received affirmation of the same, his immediate response was surprise, humility and gratitude. I’m sure he’ll get used to it, and we wait to see what will come next in his career. Probably not retirement after all!
It’s wonderful to see him recognised for his contribution to the assessment of how people make moral decisions in situations of conflict.
I’m particularly struck, though, by the importance of being there. I know we’d have been proud of Dad for his outstanding achievement wherever we spent our day yesterday. However, without being there in person we wouldn’t have been able to share in the experience, to fully appreciate the emotion of the occasion, and to see the delight and pride of Dad’s colleagues and friends.
And now, it occurs to me, I ought to read Mum’s thesis to make things fair!
*for those of you not familiar, FB ‘reminds’ you of pictures and status updates you posted on the anniversary of you having done so.
**Luke calls them ‘enemies’
***the #sisterfrombicester. We took a number of #sisterselfies during our paranymph journey…here they are: