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Covid-19 happened... and graduation lost its aura, colour

By Brian Okoth | Dec 18th 2021 | 4 min read

A graduand following ceremony on television. [Courtesy]

On Friday, several universities in Kenya held their graduation ceremonies in a muted fashion that is becoming too common in the modern Covid-19 era.

The institutions that had graduation functions on December 17 include the University of Nairobi (UoN), Kabarak University, Kenyatta University (KU), Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), Moi University, among others.

In the pre-Covid-19 era, graduation ceremonies were marked with pomp, thorough planning of journeys to the parent campuses, where names would be read out on order of merit, and alphabet.

In the last one year, that has not been the case, as most universities have been choosing to conduct the ceremony online. Government-set Covid-19 protocols do not allow people to congregate in humongous numbers. This, Health ministry says, is a tested and proven way of keeping Covid-19 surge at bay.

Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology graduated 4,000 learners on Friday during its 17th Graduation Ceremony. Four thousand (4,000) students.

During the pre-Covid-19 era, probably 3,000 graduands (subtract 1,000 who would have missed the ceremony for one reason or another), would have congregated at the Kakamega Town-based university, and painted the centre black, the predominant colour of most graduation gowns in Kenya.

Science shows that one needs at least 80,790 square feet to comfortably host a minimum of 3,000 people. Put simply, a space that can host at least 405 saloon cars. One car occupies a 200 square foot space.

For the Masinde Muliro graduation, maybe an additional 80,790 square feet open land would be needed for parking. It’s typical to see hundreds of vehicles – old and new, big and small, expensive and affordable – parked on open spaces within and outside the campus.

At the graduation squares, food is usually sold in plenty – from ice creams, to doughnuts; from soft drinks, to chips, name it.

Hawkers would pitch camp at the graduation venue, hoping to sell all manner of items, including the shiny glitter “medals” hanged around the neck to indicate the end, or probably temporary end, of 8-4-4. If no relative put those glitters around your neck, they probably did not like you as much.

At the graduation square, seats would be arranged based on departments and merit – first class honours holders would sit near the podium, followed by second class honours (upper division), second class honours (lower division), and finally pass holders. Name tags would be stuck on the seats just to ensure that no pass holder sits on the coveted first class honours holder’s seat.

The atmosphere would generally be filled with euphoria, pride, hope, relief, satisfaction, and, in some cases, envy.

People of all age groups – the very elderly, and the youngest, including those who don’t even know where they are, and for what purpose – usually endure the hundreds, or even thousands, of kilometres to grace their loved one’s important occasion.

Family members travel in droves, some hire 51-seater buses, others land in choppers just to celebrate their loved one’s graduation.

The colour, the pomp, the ecstasy that have often characterised graduation ceremonies over the years, was spectacularly missing from the Friday events. And that was because of Covid-19.

Cognisant of the risks, and existing government directives, Kenyatta University announced, way in advance, that it would hold its 50th graduation ceremony virtually.

“The Kenyatta University, KU management wishes to inform students who successfully completed full-time, part-time and distance learning programmes in 2021 and the general public that the 50th Graduation Ceremony will hold virtually on 17th December, 2021 at 8:30am, and will be streamed live through KUTV, NTV, KU website and all social media platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube),” said KU on its official website.

“A different log-in link will be sent to your students’ corporate email to enable all graduands join the virtual ceremony on the graduation day. The link will be activated at 7:00am on the graduation day, and the ceremony will also be streamed live on KUTV, NTV, KU website and all social media platforms (e. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube).

“All graduands will be expected to have logged into the virtual ceremony by 7:00 am on the 17th December, 2021.”

Masinde Muliro, on its part, termed its graduation ceremony as “blended”, meaning it was a blend of both physical and virtual sessions.

University of Nairobi also adopted the “blended” style.

Several graduands, who had secured graduation gowns, keenly followed the proceedings online, with some going to the extent of borrowing funds to buy data bundles so as to hear their names being read out.

Others, like those who graduated from the UoN, took to Twitter under the hash tag “UoN Class of 2021” to inform online users who cared to read, that they had graduated. They littered the micro-blogging site with pictures of them clad in university gowns.

“Just putting this here in case I vie for a [political] seat in the future, and [lawyer Miguna] Miguna decides to tell everybody that I'm a quack doctor. I was at the University of Nairobi. #UoNclass2021,” tweeted John Kahiga Nyoro, who graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy Degree.

Like in Kahiga’s case, today you have to shout, at the top of your voice, to alert the whole world that you graduated. That is what Covid-19 has reduced modern-day graduation events to. Without group pictures, videos of you at the graduation square, then your voice and social media will help archive the good memories.

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