Tradition, Tradition

Today, I attended an ancient ceremony. It is called “Hooding”. An elaborate and beautiful hood is given to students who have completed their scholarship and are ready to receive a doctoral degree. The Hooding Ceremony at Lesley University today with its rich pageant and sweet music took me back to the 12th and 13th centuries when the doctoral degrees were first given out. I quote from the program booklet.

“Doctoral means teacher or instructor. In ancient Rome, people who delivered public lectures of philosophical subjects were called doctors. During the 12th century, doctor became an honorary title bestowed on men and women of great learning.”

The ceremony features professors and recipients in full academic regalia marching into the theater to receive their hoods and their applause. The rainbow of rich colors laid on velvet black, and sometimes gowns of other vibrant hues worn by professors to feature the ceremonial colors of the institutions they received their degree from, grab our attention. Elegant, beautiful, and wonderfully solemn yet buoyant, the processional music punctuated by the cries of babies in the audience, was a family celebration.

“Most colorful and distinctive of the academic regalia is the hood, which drapes around the neck and extends down the back.”

As each person came up to be hooded by their dean, I could not help but think of the 8 or more centuries and countless people who had been part of the history of this service. So few very very long-lasting traditions remain. So many of our ancient traditions like old artifacts are either lost, destroyed or closeted in museum exhibits.

At the same time I could not help but think of Leonardo of Pisa and the tradition in mathematics he initiated, a tradition about Hooding’s age. But Leonardo’s math medieval tradition is no longer beautiful, no longer meaningful, no longer relevant, and yet we continue to cling to this academic tradition. Some traditions are precious connecting us to the past and enriching our lives. Some traditions bind us to activities that have long since lived out their usefulness, ending up not as things to cherish but as things that impoverish.

So as we enter this season celebrating successful scholarship, we should look to those who will not have anything to celebrate, who will have failed because they were made to follow a tradition no longer of value, no longer of use, no longer necessary. And we must ask ourselves, “What traditions do we cherish, preserve, and pass on to the next generation as their heritage, and what traditions must we shed to enable everyone to gain the education of their dreams.