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The Loss of Heritage

Why the University of Aberdeen's graduations belong elsewhere


By Tomás Pizarro-Escuti


an arch that leads you into a little seating area near Elphinstone Hall

In an age where economic efficiency often overshadows tradition, it is disheartening to witness the University of Aberdeen's graduation ceremonies being held in the soulless confines of the P&J Live arena. Daniel Boal stated back in 2021;

‘Graduation ceremonies have historically been held in the university’s iconic Elphinstone Hall – but due to social distancing measures, the winter graduations have been moved to the larger TECA complex.’,

Yet, as COVID measures have eased off in other places around campus, why are graduations still relegated to the P&J Live? As an ancient Scottish institution, the University of Aberdeen holds a rich history that should be honoured and celebrated during this significant rite of passage.


It is crucial to recognise that graduations are not merely events; they are meaningful rituals that deserve a setting with genuine historical and cultural importance.


Graduation signifies the culmination of years of hard work and personal growth. Universities across Scotland recognise the significance of these moments and have designated unique spaces to carry out these rites. Other ancient universities understand the importance of a fitting venue for graduations.


The University of Glasgow boasts the magnificent Bute Hall, the University of Edinburgh possesses the awe-inspiring McEwan Hall, and the University of Saint Andrews revels in the regal Younger Hall.


These institutions comprehend the importance of a space that resonates with the hearts of their students, while the University of Aberdeen seems to have lost sight of this crucial aspect.


Until recently, the University of Aberdeen had the wisdom to hold its graduations in Elphinstone Hall—a place that held immeasurable significance to its students. Located at the heart of the university, Elphinstone Hall stands as a testament to historical and cultural heritage, with its grandeur and charm capturing the essence of the institution. Previously, graduations took place in the equally impressive Mitchell Hall, a venue that could rival the esteemed McEwan Hall in its beauty.


However, inexplicably, the university administration has chosen to abandon these cherished locations in favour of the impersonal and unsophisticated P&J Live arena—the equivalent of a fast-food chain for graduations. This decision is emblematic of a senior management team that appears more concerned with economic efficiency - rather than preserving the rich tapestry of tradition and student connection that graduations should embody.


We must question the rationale behind this choice. Yes, the P&J Live arena can accommodate larger numbers of students, but at what cost? Is it worth sacrificing the sense of history, identity, and belonging that Elphinstone Hall and Mitchell Hall provided?


Surely the Vice-Chancellor and the Pro-Chancellor can adjust their schedules to attend more graduations if it means upholding the university's traditions - as well as honouring the students who have dedicated years of their lives to their studies.


Reflecting on my own experiences, I belong to the fortunate few who had an in-person graduation after the pandemic disrupted the academic landscape. During my ceremony, Pro-Chancellor Professor Iain Torrance expressed his heartfelt hope that future graduations would return to Elphinstone Hall—a sentiment shared by many students, both past and present.


Yet, despite the passage of two years, we find ourselves still disheartened by the continuation of graduations in the P&J Live arena.


Surely, if the university seeks alternative venues to accommodate larger numbers, options that preserve historical and cultural value exist. The Music Hall and His Majesty's Theatre, with their grandeur and significance, present worthy alternatives.


If nothing else, one could argue that even Archie’s, the iconic pub, would be a more fitting venue - at least the drinks would be reasonably priced.


Respectfully, we must call into question the decisions made by the university's senior management. Economic efficiency should not be prioritised at the expense of a connection to the institution's history, culture, and student body.


I implore the University of Aberdeen to revisit the values it holds dear and reclaim the rich traditions that made its graduations so memorable in the past. Whether in Elphinstone Hall, Mitchell Hall, or other culturally significant spaces, let us ensure that the future generations of Aberdeen graduates can celebrate their achievements in settings that truly reflect the importance.

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