The graduation ceremony at the only American university in the Netherlands is so completely different from the ceremony at a Dutch university; it is a colorful celebration in a beautiful old church - a perfect combination of solemn, serious, and stylish, topped off with the splendor and exuberance that is so characteristically American. A perfect ceremony to mark the end of years of hard study, with friends and family there to witness it. Where? In the Pieterskerk in Leiden. What university? Webster University, of course.
When the church in the heart of Leiden's picturesque inner city opens its massive doors to the colorful faculty procession approaching the cobbled stone square, the crowd inside eagerly awaits the entrance of the graduating class of 2011. Proud parents, some of whom have just flown in from as far afield as Missouri, Mombasa, or Tokyo, are stretching their necks to get an early glimpse of their son or daughter in his or her academic robes. Friends and family, ambassadors and local dignitaries, all stand while mobile phone cameras flash and the church organ starts to pound. Slowly, row upon row of nervous graduates file through the aisle towards the podium lined with the flags of more than a thirty nations. Clearly this is not an everyday occurrence, but the commencement ceremony of a truly international university. And the setting is special for most Americans, as the plaque behind where the graduates are now sitting reminds us that it was here, in this church, that the Pilgrim Fathers once worshipped before they set sail for America in the Mayflower. These students can truly feel part of their own history now.
The ceremony itself takes just over two hours, where attentive listening is relieved by applause and cheers when each individual graduate gets a personal speech from the professors standing behind the rostrum. Peeking from under the robes are pretty pumps, red high heels, sporty sneakers, shiny boots, sandals, and even fancy flip-flops. Nervousness is replaced by broad smiles when the speaker finally tells all the students to move their tassels to the right; a sign of having been officially bestowed the honors of the degree that marks their great achievement.
What will become of them is a question that frequently flits through the minds of the audience and the faculty alike. Will they go through all this merely to join the ranks of the unemployed? That would be ironic indeed, but if you believe the recent alumni surveys, nothing could be farther from the truth. Only a very small percentage of Webster students does not find appropriate employment within a year after graduation, and among those that don't, it is probably because they have set their sights too high. Most students settle into very good careers, presumably because during their Webster years they have been exposed to many different cultures, often speak different languages, and consider themselves to be truly global citizens. Because of their broad education in the liberal arts and sciences tradition, they turn out to be very employable. Also, quite a few of their rank and file decide to pursue further studies, some of them at prestigious universities. So, in spite of a gloomy economy, the future for these students is brighter than might be expected.
Back in the ceremony, the commencement speaker has finished sharing his valuable life experiences and the valedictorian asks the graduates to send their caps flying through the air. Some of the hats remain firmly lodged on the enormous chandelier high above the podium, but this only adds to the merriment. When the students file back to be congratulated by their loved ones, once more the cameras flash and celebratory drinks are being passed around between the pretty dresses, the smart suits, and the armfuls of flowers. This is a day they will never forget, the day that made all that hard work more than worth it. For some this may well be the best day of their lives.
About Webster University
Webster University offers an American-style education at more than 100 locations worldwide. With its focus on individual excellence and global citizenship, Webster is a truly global university that encourages student mobility between its network of campuses. In the Netherlands, Webster Leiden offers Bachelor programs in business and management, international relations, psychology and sociology, media communications and fine art. At graduate level, Webster offers an MBA and Masters in Management & Leadership, International Relations, International NGO Studies, and Media Communications. The MBA is also offered at Webster's Amsterdam WTC (ZuidAms) location. Webster is a university accredited in the US with dual degree options (Dutch and US diplomas) for some of its Dutch NVAO-accredited Bachelor programs. Its recently launched Global Research Institute allows students to work in internships or interdisciplinary collaborative research projects on sustainability and development.
For more Information, visit: www.webster.nl
Dr Jacques Kaat is Webster Leiden's Academic Director.