As a student of two universities, plus the LCT program, I get to graduate three times if I so choose– once at each of the universities, and once at the LCT meeting (which I have to pay to to go myself once I become an alumnus of the two unis).
In practical terms, this means that you end up going through the majority of the formalities at your second university, and then at some point, some more documents come in from your other universities. Since my second uni was University of Trento, I got to go through the Italian graduation process first. Surprisingly, everything went very smoothly, and graduation day was actually pretty fun!
When we graduate from high school or from a bachelors in the US, we have a massive assembly, with the entire graduating class (hundreds of students). You wear your robes/hat, and you wait forever until your name is called, so that you can walk up there, accept your diploma, and shake hands with some important leaders of the university. I didn’t go to my bachelors graduation, because I didn’t want to wait in the southern California desert sun for 8 hours, while everyone’s name was called, and because the ceremony took place some months after I had actually finished my schoolwork (I finished in December and ceremonies are in June/July), so I was already living somewhere else.
In Italy, the ceremony is completely different. First of all, it takes places with only your department, so the graduating class will just be the students that you know. Second of all, for the masters, it actually takes place on the same day that you defend. This means everyone makes their defense presentations, then the commission goes to deliberate on everyone’s grades, and then you get called back into the room again to receive diplomas. They call out your name, your grade, and you walk up to shake hands with your professors. In this way, it’s much more personal, which I really appreciated.
For my defense, I was defending a thesis on speech recognition to a department more focused on cognitive neuroscience. That is, my commission and fellow students were not experts on speech recognition. I had to tailor my defense to be a little more general, to be able to keep non-specialists interested in the topic, and the defense was only supposed to be 15 minutes long. This was actually really hard to do, and I had to cut out a lot. I think a longer defense to experts in the field would have been easier to present. On the other hand, I think since they were not experts, they judged me a little easier than an expert might have. I received full marks and highest honours. It felt really nice to get such amazing recognition for my work, but I know there were some mistakes in my thesis, and I’m sure that the commission at Saarland will be stricter.
Our defenses were split into a morning session and an afternoon session. After our session was done, the commission spent a good chunk of time (30-45 minutes) deliberating on our grades. Then we all got called back in with our families, for handing out the diplomas. When the student’s name is called, the professor says his normal spiel in Italian, and calls out the student’s grade, right there in front of everybody. It was something like, “with the power vested in me by the university, etc. etc., I award [the student] the master of cognitive science, with a grade of [the grade].”
This makes me wonder what happens if the student is going to fail the defense. But I get the feeling that this doesn’t happen. That is, once you are invited to the defense, it is almost certain that you will pass. At our department in Trento, they didn’t suggest for corrections to be made either, and I don’t know if this is typical or not.
Once this is done, the fun starts! We all got together in the garden in back, with champagne, sweets, confetti launchers, and actual “confetti” candies. These are little round candies given out in Italy for special events, and they are colour coded. For example, red ones are for graduation, white ones are for weddings. Each of the graduates was handed a wreath of laurels to wear on their head. (I think the colour of the ribbons in the leaves is supposed to be significant, but ours were just different colours for fun.) The ones we got were actual laurel leaves, created by our friends in the department, which was so nice and thoughtful of them! Our friends also put up compromising pictures of us throughout the halls, which was quite funny to see.
Then, the other students, the parents, and even the professors, sing a graduation song for you. This song is actually obscene, which is so funny… even funnier when it comes from professors! I don’t want to write the Italian version, because I think writing down Italian curse words might be frowned upon, so I will let you google the “dottore dottore” song.
Once the party begins, it doesn’t end. At least not in our department. Our students organized a massive alcohol-fest that night. I’m not a big drinker, so I only stayed a short while, but I expect it was going on until the wee hours. There, I saw another Italian tradition– a typical graduation drinking game. In this game, friends of the graduate write a big scroll about the graduate’s life with lots of rhymes and tongue twisters, and then the graduate has to read it correctly. Every time they mess up, they take a drink. People continued to sing the “dottore dottore” song throughout the night, as well.
I think the whole point of all of these festivities is to counteract the seriousness of the event. You just went through this grueling effort, and you are graduating as an official master’s degree holder… congratulations to you, but don’t let it go to your head, you’re are just the same as all the rest of us!
So that’s Italian graduation for you. I don’t know how German graduation goes, since I am (predictably) still waiting for my grades from Saarland. It turns out that the main person in charge of this aspect of bureaucracy is on sick leave right now, and since there’s no redundancy in the bureaucratic system there, we are probably going to have to wait until he gets better before getting our grades transferred and our diplomas in the mail. At some point next year, I hope to also be able to attend my final LCT meeting to see all the students from the previous year, and to graduate once again, from LCT (if they do a graduation for us, which I don’t know if they will).