Friday, November 1, 2013

Graduation Ugandan Style

Today we attended the graduation ceremony at Uganda Christian University.  We have never seen such an exuberant, joyful, elaborate affair.  We arrived at about 9:30 and ushered to the VIP seating.  From there we had a great view of the series of white tents set up in a U shape, leaving the center space for performances, entrances and exits.  

This was a day for the "Mamas."  The fathers were there but the exuberant displays was from the Mamas.  They were adorned with several styles of traditional dress,most frequently the Gomesi, which originated in the 19th century when a tailor named Gomez was asked to design a uniform for a girls' school.  The original design has probably,y evolved so much as to be unidentifiable by the original tailor, but it seems that every lady of a certain age has one.  These dresses are brilliantly colored with enormous sashes, tied in a huge knot at the waist. They seem to look best when the wearer is plump, and they demand attention.  They came in every size and color imaginable, and i couldn't stop staring.

The entertainment included a lot of drumming and a fantastic dance in which the girls wiggled their feathered hips so fast, they almost blurred  The drummers were in the center and eight dancing girls spread out to give the audience a great view.

The sun shone brightly on the conical tents draped in lavender and pink.  The graduates took their seats wearing black robes and mortarboard hats, but adorned with elaborate colored hoods which corresponded in size and hue to their field of study and degraa.  The colorful hoods gave us a clue to what was on the way.  The marching band struck up the national anthem and lead the faculty and administration up to the front podium.  The faculty were even more colorful than the graduates.  American professors would be jealous of this brilliant academic plumage.  After the national anthem, everyone sang a hymn.

There were several speeches, mostly short.  The main speech was by an American, Dr. Graham Walker, the President of Patrick Henry College in Virginia. The speeches stressed moral values and Christian faith and commitment.  UCU takes their Christianity very seriously. Although not all students are Christians, and some of the graduates were Muslim, the school does not try to downplay their faith.  They make it a centerpiece of the character development that brings them more students than their rival university in Uganda. They graduated 1668 students today.

The most exciting part of the ceremony was the reaction of the Mamas when their child's name was read.  As soon as they heard the name they jumped up in their seats, or found their way to the aisles. They raised both hands and began to shriek and ululate in high pitched voices.  Those in the aisles would leap and whoop with great joy. It seemed like a competition, and you never knew where it would erupt next.

Afterward, I talked with one of the professors who told me that many of these ululating Mamas were illiterate   themselves and had sacrificed much to pay for their children's schooling. Their extreme joy represents the extreme sacrifice and great pride they feel in the achievement of their children.
The Dean of the Department of Education and Arts, Dr. Medard Rugyiendo with his friend, Bishop.  
Groundbreaking for the new Student Center which will be designed by Michael Reid, Waring Class of '86, shown here with his wife Kris.

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