On Sunday 15 June the European College of Liberal Arts held its graduation ceremony. The event was an opportunity to celebrate the year’s achievements and to say goodbye to the class of 2008. Academic and Project Year students gathered with professors, administration staff, parents and friends to receive their certificates from ECLA’s co-deans, Peter Hajnal and .
The ECLA choir, conducted by Musical Director Michael Geisler, opened the ceremony with Gaudeamus Igitur. Offering musical interludes between speeches, the choir charmed the audience with a small but delightful repertoire. The choir even managed to engage audience participation, with a stirring African number, prepared as a counterpoint to the more classical pieces on the programme.
In his opening speech, Thomas Norgaard told the story of Scott Buchanan, an educational pioneer, who in 1937 introduced the ‘Great Books’ programme to St. John’s College in the United States. While stressing the differences between the Great Books programmes and ECLA’s own approach to liberal education, Norgaard cited Buchanan’s as one of the most interesting educational experiments of the 20th century, and worthy of study. After giving a brief history of the great books movement, Norgaard went on to focus on Buchanan himself. He held up Buchanan’s example as praiseworthy, demonstrating not only a willingness to experiment but also the willingness to learn from those experiments: For Norgaard, Buchanan’s criticisms of the ‘Great Books’ programme that he created may be as instructive as its creation. To mark the day, Norgaard donated to the ECLA library a book of interviews with Buchanan. He closed by thanking professors, administration staff and students for all that they had contributed to ECLA this year.
It was then the turn of students to take the stage, offering an alternative perspective on the year. Lena Schulze-Gabrechten (Germany) and Cholpon Degenbaeva (Kyrgyzstan) were chosen by their peers to speak on behalf of the student body. They held the audience with their witty and insightful commentary on the year’s experiences. In a few, inspired words they managed to pin down how each member of the ECLA community had contributed to the year and thanked the deans, administration staff and professors.
Each student was called in turn to receive his or her graduation certificate, to audience applause and congratulations. The ceremony ended with dinner, an opportunity to browse the yearbook for pictures, stories, interviews and individual student pages.
The graduation ceremony was one of a clutch of events that saw out the academic year. On the previous Monday evening there was a student-led discussion, ‘60 years of Nakba: The changing faces of the Palestinian nation’, to which students and faculty were invited. ECLA student Duna Tatour gave an impressive and personal presentation about the situation of the Palestinian minority in Israel, of which she is a member. The presentation focused on the Arab/Jewish question and on issues of Palestinian-Israeli identity. Duna explained that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 had, among the Palestinian people, become known as nakba or ‘catastrophe’, leading to large-scale dispossession, and creating the so-called Palestinian refugee problem. She went on to discuss the issues that have faced Palestinians, both within and outside the state of Israel, from 1948 to the present day.
On Friday PY students presented their finished projects to faculty and fellow-students. Those learning French gathered for an ‘après-midi François’ on Saturday and on Thursday the German class headed to Berlin’s famous Prater beer garden to watch the Germany v Croatia Euro 2008 football match.
Final farewells were said with a Nietzschean twist on Sunday evening, after the graduation ceremony. It was decided that, after a whole year of faithful service to Apollo (god of measured speech and clear argument), the time was ripe to give Dionysos, (god of wine and revelry) his due. Coordinated by Ewa Atanassow (faculty), students and faculty assembled one last time. It was an evening for the disclosure of hidden talents, members of faculty impressing with their various aptitudes: at the poker table (not for money, of course!), dancing and playing guitar. After endless group photos, goodbyes and hugs, the year drew to a close, and in the early hours of Monday morning the music stopped and the lights were turned out.
The final page of the ECLA experience will not be found in the yearbook, but in the moments that live in the memory of the class of 2008.
By Livia Marinescu (2008, Romania) and Samantha Williams (2008, United Kingdom)