| Entry 4 of 9
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“In 1973 there was one Open University graduation ceremony, at Alexandra Palace. This year there will be 26, in locations as far apart as Edinburgh and Singapore. How does a university which prides itself on being 'open as to place', create a sense of occasion and feeling of belonging?
The OU's graduation season began this year at Harrogate in April, and from now until the final ceremony at the Palais des Congres in Brussels in September, lorry-loads of robes, processional carpets, ceremonial chairs and other paraphernalia essential to the graduation ceremony, will be hurtling across the country - and over the sea - between 18 different venues.
No other university does it like this. But just as the OU aims to overcome distance by bringing education to the student, it also aims to bring the graduation ceremony, if not to the students' home, then hopefully to an accessible location.
This means at least one ceremony (sometimes more) in each of the OU's 13 regions in Britain and Ireland and one somewhere in Continental Western Europe - this year it's Brussels, last year was Paris. And since 1998 a ceremony has been held in Singapore, where the OU now has around 5,000 students.” The Independent – 6th May 1999
How did I come to choose Brussels when I could have gone to Belfast or Dublin? As I recall a list of graduation ceremony venues was sent out in the autumn (1998) and I was asked to choose a preferred location and list possible alternatives in case of over subscription. It transpires that only about 70% of applicants get their first choice. I don’t recall why I didn’t opt for Singapore since I am quite fond of this city state? But I know I wanted to celebrate this special occasion and a European break in a familiar and friendly city was a better choice than staying at home. I filled in the forms and put the matter to the back of my mind. It was not until January 1999 that the Open University confirmed that I had satisfied the requirements for my award and confirmed I would be attending the Brussels ceremony.
But I am getting ahead of myself a little. I was up with the larks this morning, ready to go out and face the day. First order of business, once we were all washed and dressed, was breakfast. As I have said I am not very keen on our accommodation at the Hotel Metropole, it being rather cramped, stuffy and warm. However the public rooms downstairs are the grandest I have seen, even more so than Raffles, Singapore. I rather hoped that the breakfast befitted the room in which it was served; I was not disappointed. The buffet breakfast was of a high standard.
As the graduation ceremony was not until the afternoon we headed out to explore. We got on the Metro at De Brouckere and travelled five stops to Schuman, coming out near the Parc du Cinquantenaire.
“Parc du Cinquantenaire (French) or Jubilee Park (English) is an urban public park with a complex of buildings in the eastern part of the European District of Brussels, Belgium. The park is dominated by the 1880 triumphal arch in the middle, and the horse-shoe shaped buildings surrounding the park esplanade. Today the various buildings of the Cinquantenaire host the Royal Museums for Art and History, the Royal Army and Military History Museum and the Autoworld Automobile Museum.”
The park and its famous buildings were commissioned by King Leopold II in 1880 to commemmorate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence. The ground was originally used for military training purposes but in 1880 was used to host a ‘Great Exhibition’ rather like the one in London in 1851. The triumphal arch was not actually completed until the 75th anniversary in 1905. The arch and its surrounding buildings are impressive examples of late 19th century architecture.
There really was no hesitation in choosing which museum to visit. The Musee Royale de L’Armee et d’Histoire Militaire is free whilst the Art/History & Autoworld museums charge admittance! Anyway you all know I have an interest in all things military. The Royal Museum of Army and Military History occupies the vast northern wing of the Cinquantenaire complex. There are exhibits dating back to Belgian independence but I was most interested in the aircraft gallery. Although the museum is very interesting, I believe it is in need of restoration, with specific reference to the Aviation Hall. But overall a very good museum.
We walked through the park and picked up the Metro at Merode, making our way back to De Brouckere and the Hotel Metropole. Time to get changed into our Sunday best for the graduation ceremony. I brought my kilt and tweed jacket for the occasion. The Brussels Palais des Congres is located next to Gare Centrale, only one stop from De Brouckere. I looked a little out of place on the Metro in my kilt outfit but was very proud to be heading to my graduation after four long years of study. The Palais des Congres was built at the time of the world exposition in 1958. It is reported to contain wall paintings by famous Belgian artists such as Magritte, Delvaux, and Van Lint, dating back to the 1960’s. I am afraid that I was too busy following the Open University signs to notice! The next phase I would describe as rather like joining the army. Chits were exchanged, robes issued and photographs taken, all in a professional and business like manner. This had all been arranged and paid for in advance.
I suppose one of the advantages of an OU ceremony is that it is quite small compared with other establishments. After all this was the last of 26 graduation ceremonies to be held during 1999, as opposed to holding one large annual event. Our seats were clearly marked on charts and we took our places early whilst waiting for the ceremony to begin. The hall was emblazoned with Open University parafanalia. The ceremony began with the entrance of the academic procession. The last person to ascend the stage was the Presiding Officer, preceded by the university’s mace-bearer. Once assembled the mace was laid down at the front of the stage and the Presiding Officer declared the congregation open.
After opening speeches graduates were mustered by ushers and presented to the Presiding Officer, commencing with the highest academic awards first. Once the research degrees had passed, such as doctorates, it was time for the taught masters’ degrees to appear. My name was called; I ascended to the stage, shook hands with the Presiding Officer and descended by the opposite stairs. Four years of academic work condensed into twenty seconds! By the way I missed shaking hands with another senior academic on the way across the stage – oops, sorry! Back at my seat I watched all the first degrees accept their awards. These are the most special people in the world, who have set a goal in life and battled to achieve their dream, whilst juggling with work and family commitments. It is a far cry from my care free days in full time education.
When all the graduates had been presented, the Presiding Officer gave a short address and then declared the congregation closed. Outside the main hall, drinks and snacks were available and most importantly free of charge. Whilst availing of the alcoholic refreshments I met another fellow Scot in highland dress who had just received a degree. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the company of this fine Scotsman and his wife, rarely straying more than a few feet from the free wine. Indeed I was having such a good time that I missed getting my photograph taken with the rest of the MBA graduates. Sadly you can’t be everywhere at once. A memorable afternoon.
We were almost the last to leave the Palais des Congres, returning to the Hotel Metropole via the Metro system. It was nice to change out of my kilt into more casual attire and rest. To be truthful I had rather over indulged on the free wine so welcomed the opportunity to recuperate before heading out for the evening. We met Brian and Finlay downstairs in the bar around 1930hrs and then headed out in search of a good meal. I was in possession of an old Brussels guidebook which recommended a Belgian buffet restaurant located near to the Grand Place. We walked the length of the street it was said to be located on but saw no restaurant. This left us in a bit of a quandary. Where to go now?
We were already east of the Grand Place so we walked to Gare Centrale and took the Metro for two stops to Arts-Loi. Part of the rationale was to find a restaurant outside of the tourist belt. We branched off the Rue de la Loi and ended up on a quiet street called Rue Des Deux Eglises. We were well outside the range of my guidebook. Fortunately we stumbled across a restaurant called La Table Gourmande. It had an upmarket Belgian feel about the place. We were shown to an outside table in a courtyard type area, which is just as well because Erin decided to throw a strop. She worked herself into a real tiz. I have no idea what caused all the pained tears but it took Ruth a while to get her to calm down.
Being in a nice restaurant with a screaming child causes a distinct lack of concentration with regard to menus. Drinks had been ordered but I relied on Finlay’s superior knowledge of French in order to select an appropriate dish. Unfortunately instead of ordering veal I had in fact ordered a generous portion of liver! I could not find fault with the quality of the said product but liver is just not my favourite dish. Indeed I do not recall having liver since I left school. But the starters and desserts were good and I was able to swap some of my liver for a piece of Ruth’s chicken. Overall this was a good quality restaurant, which can be seen in the bill (5175 BEF). It was after 2300hrs before we left the restaurant and nearly midnight before we returned to the Hotel Metropole. We bid farewell to Brian & Finlay who are returning to Scotland tomorrow.
It has been a very long but memorable day.
| Entry 4 of 9
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