|A Science Club Publication|
|In Contact, Jan 91|
Meaningful After All
"You going for convo?" my friends would invariably ask as August approached. Apparently some felt it would be 'no big deal' and decided not to go - not that there was much tradition to speak of. I confess that I myself decided to go simply because 'everyone else' was going.
I arrived to confusion: Where to go, what to do and how to put on that mass of blue cloth which was our gown? Everyone asked everyone and nobody listened long enough to find out anything for all were enthusiastically greeting friends they hadn't seen since the last exam paper. Later a few of the early birds took on the role of 'ushers' and directed the more wayward souls to friends. Those who spent time reading the pamphlets that were posted to us or tried out their gowns at home became valuable, full time consultants to the less prepared - for all were novices at wearing the gown except, perhaps, those who 'graduated' out of kindergarten. The air was filled with 'catching-up' conversation - who's working, who's in honours,who's happily relaxing at home and who's just back from travelling.
Later we formed up in tightly packed lines to the order in which we would be presented our scrolls. The task of keeping us in rows was that of the liaison officers, many of whom looked harassed, since the delight at seeing one's friends often pulled us away from our positions. Everyone was robed by now and it wasn't that easy to spot friends in that sea of blue. I wandered enthusiastically around but always scampered back (its like moving amongst cushions) before the chap in charge of my row started checking on us. The atmosphere was filled with flashing of camera bulbs, chatter and the continual adjustment of robes which would persist right up to the moment we received our scrolls.
We entered the theatre (at last!) to a ceremonious trumpet fanfare (parents all craned their necks at this moment) and I felt a bit sheepish because I was still carrying my trusty big, blue bag with all its badges (which I'd carried to campus since I was a freshie). When I came to Kallang Theatre that morning, my robe was stuffed inside and I had, quite unfortunately, not left it with someone. So, it was with embarrassment that I walked in, while my friend's mom snapped shots of us. The moment we got seated, I covered my bag immediately with my gown because I was in the front row.
The formalities that preceded the scroll presentation finished quickly (before I got fidgety) and soon our Dean, Prof Tan, began reading the list of names alphabetically. The fresh graduates were presented their scrolls by Dr Yeo Ghim Seng, the Pro-Chancellor, who managed to give a warm smile to each and all who went up. Some of the lecturers attending the ceremony gave encouraging nods as some of their students prepared to walk forward to receive their scrolls.
This was when it got quite interesting. The supposedly tedious part was clapping (or maintaining it) for your peers as they went up but I discovered, to my pleasant surprise, that I knew many who had gone up. In fact, as I watched the grads went up, I was reminded of the many different things that I had done in Science and of the many varied and interesting people I had met in just three years.
The memories stretched back to first year as I saw some of the people I whacked during 'Whacko!' at the Science Workshop (June 1987) as freshies. Through these workshop friends, I had made more friends who were also graduating that same day. I smiled as the next person up on stage was a guy I overnighted with in campus when we were convinced we would fail our first year miserably. I saw too, members of my doomed first-year study group (still confused over molecular orbitals) and my first lab partner whose performance would inspire my "Bleeps, Bloops and Blunders in the Chemistry Lab" article (Chemiscope, 1988).
It was fun to identify those I had met after many nights of electronic chatter via the mainframe. T'was with caution and reluctance that we eventually revealed our identities for the question always was - 'What if we can't talk when we meet?'. There were still some whom I didn't know but would remember by the glowing green aliases that used to appear on my screen many a night in the Science Library computer room. One smiling face brought back painful memories of a rugby match during which we suffered a head-on collision when we both dived ferociously for the same opponent. More embarrassing than painful, I guess. He was an enthusiastic player and after he received his scroll, he shook his fists in the air with the satisfaction of winning a tough match. His obvious delight was a moment of spontaneity which the other grads, though more reserved, could well identify with.
Some embarking memories were evoked on seeing those who had persuaded me to compere, debate or dance on stage. These moments are better left undocumented for they will eventually fade (I hope!) from the memories of the witnesses. The mangroves came to mind with the appearance of some clean-faced friends who had worked with me during the holidays, 'mucking around in the mud with our professor'. One lad reminded me of the race (which my friend usually lost), for a particular corner seat in Serials during exam time. Faces more familiar in dim light - those who spent many a night preparing for the exams on the benches outside the Reading Room or waiting for the coin-collectors to return outside LT 23, while the float gradually took its form during the Rag & Flag.
My biology classmates shared many a field trip, some of which turned into mini class picnics. Even the bus ride to the destination was eventful - I saw a victim of our high spirits receive his scroll. He had been mugged in the back of a bus after taunting us, receiving no help from the demos who were sitting in front - they ignored his screams and the shoes that flew past them. I almost laughed when one of the muggers received his scroll for he had always insisted he was leaving 'this place' since first-year; I guess he procrastinated. Then there were the many I met through Science Club activities who made a trip to the canteen the event for the day with their coffeeshop discussions.
The liaison officer suddenly tapped my friend's shoulder and we rushed through the roundabout path to the stage. Then it was my turn and I got a got a nod from my lecturer as I made my way forward to receive my scroll. Dr Yeoh smiled and congratulated me, as he had, to hundreds before. I was soon making my way down the stage gripping my scroll. My gown got hooked on the banister but I recovered without falling and I walked back to my seat, getting smiles and nods along the way from the rest who were seated. As the last few received their scrolls, the clapping intensified to a thunderous applause for the last, slightly embarrassed Science graduate.
We were out of the theatre soon and the cameras clicked and clicked. There was a mad rush to take photos with every group of friends who shared the years in Science. The bio class gathered to fling their mortarboards into the air. Many will remain but memories and only a small group will linger to see me grow into my old age. But that is only natural. What remained was the realisation of why I had felt so comfortable all my three years in Science. The people in Science made me realise that an institution was only as great as the people who made it. Going to campus had never been a chore - I had shared much with many and profited from the experience. I had come away with more than a certificate. Thanks to all of them and I hope you will enjoy yourself too!
© N Sivasothi, 2001