Everybody remembers their graduation ceremony and for many it is one of the most important milestones in their life. Universities everywhere go to great lengths to ensure that the ceremony reflects this importance and provides their alumni with an experience that fully reflects pride in their academic achievement and the enhanced status that graduation confers. They also try to give the ceremony an individual flavour that is unique in the world of Academe. Nowhere is this better achieved than at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Ashanti with its rich cultural heritage.
The ceremony is held in the Great Hall of the university, constructed in the 1960s by Kwame Nkrumah’s great friend, Vice-Chancellor Dr R P Baffour, specifically to provide an impressive venue for the all-important annual celebration. During the ceremony, the hall’s vast size is further extended by open sides which not only allow a greater audience to experience the event but connect the ceremony to the surrounding natural environment of extensive lawns, flowering shrubs and the mighty trees of the vestigial tropical forest. A conventional platform provides accommodation for university officials, senior academics and invited VIPs, and an extensive high surrounding gallery provides seating for the university choir and the enormous Ashanti horns that give the ceremony one of its unique cultural features.
The ceremony begins with the assembly of parents, relatives and friends of the graduates in the main body of the hall. The gathering of VIPs on the platform often includes the President of the Republic and/or the Asantehene, King of Ashanti, who for some years served as Chairman of the University Council. Professors and lecturers in their brightly coloured gowns assemble at the University Library, separated from the Great Hall by one hundred meters of lawn. This Kaleidoscopic display is often enhanced by academic robes from every continent. In solemn procession it winds its way past a band of energised traditional drummers foretelling the arrival of this tsunami of knowledge to the expectant gathering. On entering the hall, the academic parade is triumphantly heralded by the great horns whose low sonorous blasts resonate through stone and concrete and pump adrenaline in every human breast.
Led by the choir the assembly sings the university anthem praising the ancestors who struggled for Ghana’s freedom. After introductory speeches the award of degrees to graduates follows the universal pattern except for two distinctive features. Ghana is said to have about sixty vernaculars, each with its characteristic tribal and clan names. This presents the University Registrar with an almost impossible task in pronouncing all the names correctly as the recipients are called to receive their certificates, but his errors are forgiven in silence by a grateful and respectful audience.
In the parade of the graduates each individual is greeted with generous applause as they bow to their dean and receive their award. Every young man is dressed in a smart Western suit and tie in a dull uniformity that can be seen the world over, but the women take advantage of the event to present a dazzling fashion parade. Many of the dresses exhibit the latest innovations with the brightly coloured traditional Kente narrow-loom cloth woven a few miles north of Kumasi in the villages around Bonwire. The more remarkable achievements are greeted with gasps and extra applause, though some displays are spoiled by ungainly tottering on over-high heels.
As the tropical sun descends behind the University Library the National Anthem is sung with great gusto by an assembly full of pride and ready to disperse to individual family celebrations. A Kumasi degree may not yet have earned the kudos of Oxford or Harvard but universities everywhere could learn something from KNUST in moulding its graduation ceremonies to reflect the traditional culture of its people.