"We are such stuff as dreams are made on"

To Wear or Not To Wear a Motarboard

Some shift happened at a UCC graduation last Friday. And it was the women I noticed first.

Everybody is happy at graduations. The formality is a perfect container for joyfulness. The make-believe batman-like capes spark playfulness. Although the ceremony itself is silent, it’s the laughter before and after that lingers in your ears.

Sitting on the plinth, and looking across at the graduands I noticed that several women were not wearing motarboards. Check out the photo above.

Ireland has a peculiar tradition, women wear them, men don’t. Two urban myths compete to explain the why. Motarboards top the achievements of women. Their academic career goes no further. The second is that men threw off their caps in protest when women were admitted into universities. And they have stayed off since.

Who knows what the real reason is. However, both urban myths share a common feature – marking women out. And given that these myths are so well known, one message this garb could transmit is inequality.

Every year a few women arrive bareheaded to collect their scrolls. Last Friday it was a sizeable minority. And I noticed that some women had arrived with motarboards, but left them behind in their seats.

And then a young man wearing a motarboard walked up to the plinth. I had never seen that before in a UCC graduation. He was followed by other men who wore caps. It was not too many, but enough to signify a possible shift.

Clothes, particularly formal clothes, embody handed down traditions. We rarely examine the values behind these traditions.

But values connect us with what is important to us. But often we take on values from others, parents, bosses, political leaders, and so we connect with what is important for them, rather than what is important for us.

Reviewing our values is vital, so that they serve out best lives. This can be hard to do  on our own, but it is bread and butter for coaches.

UCC men and women, by wearing and not wearing motarboards together, are re-interpreting academic garb to send out a message of equality, and trashing once dominant urban myths, independent thinking in action.

A change has happening in UCC.


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