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Graduation day gets some catwalk glitz
06.30.2014

    Graduation day gets some catwalk glitz

     

    A couple walk the red carpet at Fudan University’s graduation ceremony.

    Film stars walk the red carpet. Models strut the catwalk. And now the world of conspicuous glamour has come to academia.

    As part of this year’s graduation ceremonies at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, 130 seniors and teachers in formal evening attire swanned like celebrities along a long red carpet as cameras flashed from the sidelines. The group, selected by an online vote, followed the carpet to an equally lavish party highlighted by 14 performances of song and dance.

    The party on June 24 was a prelude to the more traditional commencement exercises marked by the pomp and ceremony of robes and mortarboards, distinguished speeches, diploma presentation and group photos.

    For a second year running, Fudan has added the celebrity-style party to its graduation festivities. This year’s party theme — “Chasing Dreams and Forever Young” — was conceived, designed and executed by students who wanted to celebrate their rite of passage with a bit of glitz.

    “The purpose is to add some fun to commencement,” Zhu Yanlei, the event’s organizer, told Shanghai Daily. “Commencement is supposed to be serious, whereas the party is like a carnival where students can really let down their hair and celebrate their four years.”

    Photos of the red carpet and the party circulated widely on social networking sites, prompting a bit of debate about whether such frivolity undermines the significance of earning a college degree and the image of educated young people embarking on professional careers.

    “The traditional commencement ceremony stresses the special value and significance of a college education,” said Gu Jun, a social science professor at Shanghai University. “These new types of parties are overly extravagant to attract attention. And it’s a shame that students who walked the red carpet were selected on appearance and costumes instead of academic achievement.”

    Old-fashioned pomposity

    Gu’s remarks no doubt smack of old-fashioned pomposity to many people who believe academia needs to stay in tune with the modern world.

    “Personally, I think the red carpet at Fudan was a bit overly focused on the fashion side,” said Liu Haibo, director at Shanghai University’s School of film, television art and technology.

    “But I didn’t find it offensive. Graduation is a big deal in life, and I agree with students, parents and schools who want to make it a special, more interesting event.”

    Two of the most popular red-carpet party photos making the online rounds seemed to exemplify both sides of the debate. One traced a day in the life of Dahuang, a cat that has become something of a mascot around campus. The other involved Zhang Anqui, a graduate dubbed the “Mensa goddess” because of her academic record in science and her acceptance for postgraduate study at Harvard.

    Fudan is not alone in trying to spice up graduation ceremonies. Even local kindergartens have gotten into the act, with children in red bowties strutting along red carpets to the delight of doting parents and grandparents.

    At Jiangsu Normal University, students chose Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD ) costumes, rituals and music for commencement exercises.

    “It is not just about wearing traditional costumes,” said a member of the university’s information office. “Our school is in Xuzhou, the origin of the Han Dynasty. We wanted to showcase our cultural heritage at graduation.”

    Many students think the debate about commencement activities is pretty pointless.

    “I am a typical science student who spent most of my time in the lab,” said Jiang Yue, who was among the Fudan students on the red carpet. “Graduation activities are not so much about dressing up but rather about the chance to say goodbye officially to an important era of life.”