Graduation Fails

It’s that time of year again

I’ve previously commented on graduation matters here but omitted to mention one particular challenge of the season: pronouncing graduands’ names.

Our Deans work very hard on this and it really is not a task I envy them. But now there is a possible solution. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on a start-up business designed to address this most distinctive of higher education problems:

What's in a name?
What’s in a name?

Stanford University, whose students gave us the modern search engine, the modern sneaker company, and the modern method of money transfer, is finally tackling a native challenge: commencement. At graduation ceremonies over the past weekend, eight departments at the university used a web-based service that allows students to record their names before commencement for the benefit of whoever reads aloud the list of graduates.

Dubbed NameCoach, the start-up was founded last year by students at—where else?—Stanford. Universities using the service send a link to graduates, who are directed to a web page where they can record their names as they want them pronounced. Nervous deans can then review them at their leisure.

Praveen Shanbhag, who graduated from Stanford this year with a doctorate in philosophy, thought of the idea for NameCoach after a particularly brutal reading of his sister’s name at her 2010 undergraduate commencement. Mr. Shanbhag said the mangling clouded an otherwise happy day for the family. “It kind of tinged it with a sense of alienation and invisibility,” he says. He points to recent research on name mispronunciation as evidence of the psychological and societal damage such incidents can cause.

It’s a simple and rather neat idea and you can see on the demo page quite clearly how it works.

It might turn out to be really helpful. But it still depends on Deans getting it right on the day and there are all sorts of reasons things can go a little bit wrong with one or two pronunciations. But on the whole our Deans do a fantastic job and there is not a lot of butchering.

Even bigger fail

But name errors are sometimes the least of the problems on stage. In many years of daft behaviour by graduands I’ve not seen anything quite as splendidly dumb as this student’s failed backflip attempt during Davenport’s graduation ceremony:

It’s not uncommon to see a celebratory gesture or two as students make their way across the stage at college and university commencement ceremonies.

But on Sunday, the antics of one Davenport University student didn’t work out quite as planned.

After walking across the stage and shaking hands with university administrators, Robert Jeffrey Blank removed his cap, planted his feet in place and attempted a backflip.

It didn’t go well.

Blank failed to rotate quick enough, and appeared to land face first on the stage, drawing a gasp from the audience. He didn’t appear to suffer any serious injuries, though, as he can be seen quickly getting up and walking off stage.

Let’s hope we don’t see too many more of these. Or indeed this striking example of a typo on a Degree Certificate:

Crazy school, crazy spelling
Crazy school, crazy spelling

(this one via Inside Higher Ed)

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