Tag: graduation

My MA Convocation Was a Fiasco

In February 2020, I took a day off from work to drive to Pune with my entire family to collect my Master of Arts degree certificate from IGNOU at its 33rd annual convocation ceremony. Call it a stupid mistake on my part or a sheer lack of luck, I was denied my certificate. Morose and disappointed, we cancelled all our subsequent sight-seeing and luncheon plans and decided to drive back to Mumbai. On our way, our car broke down and we spent nearly 4 hours waiting at an unfamiliar place before it was ready to roll on the road again. It was an hour shy of midnight when we reached home.

I don’t think I have had a day as disastrous as that Monday in a long time. Making me look back at it now and assess its potential to be perhaps the worst day of my adult life.

Preparing for the 33rd IGNOU Convocation

After taking the decision to pursue Master of Arts in English Literature (MEG) via the distance learning program of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in 2017, I was successfully able to complete it – while working full-time – in two years, the minimum course time. It wasn’t easy but I didn’t come out with flying colours either to boast about it. If not a good score, I was just happy that I had completed it without having to take advantage of the ATKT rule, reassuring me that studying while working was still a manageable enterprise for me who is a lazy bum.

So when IGNOU emailed me about the convocation ceremony – five months after the results were out – I was elated. At first, I thought I was supposed to go to the main campus in New Delhi. I even discussed this with my course coordinator (Pema Sandup) and was excited that an interstate trip had appeared out of nowhere. But then the regional circular mentioned that the convocation for students from Mumbai and Pune would happen in the latter city. Nevertheless, I immediately registered for the ceremony by paying INR 600.

The venue was an auditorium near Colonel Point in Pune and I had already figured out the time it would take for us to reach there. The IGNOU circular also specified a dress code: students were supposed to wear Bharatiya Paridhan (Indian dress) and that is when I had second thoughts about attending the function. It confused me a little at the start but then I found out it’s not really a mandate. A white shirt would do. But, just in case, I borrowed a kurta from a friend. I was ready.

The 33rd convocation ceremony of IGNOU was scheduled on a Monday afternoon in February 2020. After a recent intense incident that had ended in a heartbreak, I was very excited for this event. Despite work pressure, I managed to take the day off. My sister and her husband also took the day off and my niece had to skip school. We all were really looking forward to the trip – sort of a day out in Pune. My mom loves such road trips. And my previous convocation – when I graduated as an Engineer from the University of Mumbai – was a damp squib.

None of us had any idea that the day was going to be a complete failure.

The Day of the Event

I think we started out before 9 AM that Monday morning. Our only stop was at the Khalapur Food Plaza for some tea and breakfast. Before 11 AM we were at the venue.

We parked the car at the lot and I stepped out to register myself. Apparently, we had to re-register on the spot and that is where I screwed up. Since the venue was designated for students from both the regional centres (Mumbai and Pune), there were multiple queues leading up to the registration desk. I joined one of the queues for Mumbai students.

Upon reaching the desk, I dished out my IGNOU ID card and wrote down my name and enrolment number. I was asked to pay a refundable deposit of INR 200 for the convocation scarf which I did. In an attempt to not hold the line up for long, I quickly asked the staff if this registration was enough. He said yes, and without questioning it, I took the scarf and left the desk. I had nearly two hours before the ceremony began and instead of verifying if I had actually registered my name on the call list, I sat at my designated seat reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.

The Event, The Blunder

My family also shortly joined me in the auditorium even though we were sitting separately. Half an hour passed by before the delegation entered with an entourage and occupied their chairs on the dais. Happy and excited, I waited for the opening speeches to get over to finally receive my MA degree certificate.

ignou rc mumbai convocation
The delegation at the 33rd IGNOU convocation in Pune / @ignourcmumbai on FB

Here I would like to highlight the speech made by the guest of honour for the convocation, Bhupendra Kainthola, an IIS officer and current Director of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He spoke softly and with a touch of liveliness that was missing in the speeches made by those before him. He talked about his own experiences (as an IGNOU student) and then congratulated us for our feat with extraordinary panache. It was a remarkable, uplifting speech that is yet not available in the public domain.[1]The IGNOU Pune Regional Centre hadn’t responded to my query about the video. If someone asks me if there was one thing that went well that day then I would refer to this speech. IGNOU’s Pune division of inviting Kainthola may not have been the right choice[2]Bhupendra Kainthola is more of a film person than related to education. He was also accused of alleged harassment and for creating a ‘hostile work environment’ by an FTII student in 2018. (Student Alleges FTII Director Ridiculed, Intimidated Her for Speaking Up Against Sexual Harassment – The Wire – Varsha Torgalkar, 24 October 2018) but I did objectively enjoy his words.

Soon after Kainthola’s speech, the certificate distribution began. Doctorate students were conferred first. Students from different streams were called onto the dais and were handed over their certificates as I continued to applaud with the audience. It was when the delegation started distributing Bachelor’s degrees to students that I realized something was wrong. But I still waited, hoping to be called. Perhaps my name was last on this list?

No, my name was not on the list. I confirmed this when I walked to an IGNOU Pune official nearby and asked him why my name was not called. “Your name is not on the list. You didn’t register,” he said and my worst nightmare came true. By this time, my niece and nephew were getting restless. The distribution had moved to Pune students. It looked like I would be really ending up without a certificate.

I kept my book on my seat and walked up to where my family was sitting. Even they had the same questions as I had. More than embarrassment, it was disappointment that I was feeling. Waking up early, driving all the way to Pune, only to be taken down by a a clerical issue. My confidence was draining and I suddenly found myself in a state of inactivity. Even when my sister and mom forced me to go up to the dais and ask what’s what, I didn’t flinch. I just sat there analysing my mistake.

I finally gathered some courage and walked to the dais. I relayed my concern to a group of officials working behind the stage. They reconfirmed what the organizer had told me. But they also added one thing: there was no way I was going to get the certificate that day. Why? Because the original bundle of certificates was already packed and ready to be sent to the respective regional centres.

Dejected, I walked back to my family and passed the information. I think more than the issue of not receiving the certificate, my family was irritated that I couldn’t be photographed in the graduation attire. And that is what eventually caused me the biggest embarrassment.

We talked to the chancellors for assistance but none of them came to our aid. They made us understand that it was not right to open the bundle now after it was packed and taped. But then my sister suggested that I take a photograph with them using someone else’s certificate. Why? Just for the heck of it. As a crown on top of all the embarrassment, that is exactly what happened.

IGNOU MA convocation
That’s me photographed with someone else’s degree certificate

When all of this was over, I walked back to my original seat to collect my book. To no one’s surprise, it was no longer there. Like adding salt to the fire, the missing book added to my fury. A day that was characterised by absent-mindedness on my part. It robbed us of everything that we had wished for that day. And if all of this wasn’t enough, our car’s alternator cable snapped right when we were in the middle of a busy street. An Exide guy helped us and connected us to a mechanic nearby and it wasn’t before 7 PM that we left the city. Sorrowful, tired, and desperate to get home.

Conclusion

This happened at the height of me losing my self-confidence. I was just doing the bare minimum at everything – at work, in personal development, and in my social life. Such a minor mistake caused by an absent mind had a surprisingly large impact on my belief in myself, causing borderline impostor syndrome. I usually am not much affected by successes and failures but this episode really troubled me. I even saw it as a precursor to me losing my mind, being unable to carry out a basic task like registering my name on a sheet of paper. It caused a small crack in me, which is why I had to write this piece to let off some steam.

It’s been nearly two months since the fiasco, but the embarrassment that it caused me still is fresh on my mind. More so during this lockdown period where I have a lot of ideas but unable to execute any of them.

After the incidents, I took the following day off to steady myself but it didn’t help much. I went back to work on Wednesday and things went back to normal as I got busy with work. I stopped thinking about it for some time until the degree certificate reached me by post. It was a bittersweet feeling. TN.

Featured image courtesy: @chuttersnap via Unsplash

footnotes   [ + ]

1. The IGNOU Pune Regional Centre hadn’t responded to my query about the video.
2. Bhupendra Kainthola is more of a film person than related to education. He was also accused of alleged harassment and for creating a ‘hostile work environment’ by an FTII student in 2018. (Student Alleges FTII Director Ridiculed, Intimidated Her for Speaking Up Against Sexual Harassment – The Wire – Varsha Torgalkar, 24 October 2018)

The Lost Feeling of Graduation

I have been ceremoniously conferred an academic qualification twice; a diploma in 2012 and most recently a degree, both in the same sphere of Engineering. The feeling was great, of course, but there wasn’t much difference between the feelings when I walked out of my last board exam back in June and when I walked out last Tuesday with a degree certificate in my hand. Further, that walk out of the classroom after the exam was much more delightful than my graduation day, and there’s a reason behind that. Reasons, actually.

I do not know how graduation ceremonies unfold elsewhere in the world, so this is not a comparison quip from my part. This is just a first-hand experience of having graduated from an Indian varsity, Mumbai University, in 2016. However, this is definitely an article taking potshots at Mumbai’s various degree colleges which handed out degrees to their most valuable and loyal customers last week, on and around the 67th Republic Day of India. Having said that, this article is not exclusively about my college unless wherever remarked.

For starters, an amount ranging from INR 100 to INR 500 was collected from students for the graduation gown as rent. Other than the gaggle of people (who are the same students who were going to graduate in the first place, and some of whom are my now former classmates) who scrambled to cash in on this opportunity by urging the college administration to tie up with their known garment dealer so they could get a cut out of it, bad management at my college’s part was the biggest highlight. Some students, who were connected with the college’s administration, urged us students to fill a Google form while others suggested we call some random guy and register our names for the gown. While in my college we were asked to pay INR 300 for the gown as deposit with a promise of getting back half the amount on returning the dress, at colleges like K J Somaiya and Vidyalankar, students were charged a strict INR 200 without the give-and-take nonsense. Most of us paid the amount because we are sentimental people, we Indians. Wearing a graduation gown and photographing ourselves so that we can joke about framing it later during the dinner that night and eventually posting it on social media is a custom we have been unofficially following for years. So, yes, we paid the amount reluctantly and registered our names. I am assuming this had something to do (at least partially) with the people who chose to remain at home. But of course, I believed them when they said that their employers wouldn’t approve leave, in spite of the convocation being on a Republic Day or a weekend, or when they said they were holidaying at a hill station. Now that I have experienced the ceremony, I guess they are the smarter lot.

There was also some chatter about the colour of hoods (violet), which didn’t look that good. At the end, however, everyone thanked goodness that the management at least hadn’t selected that grotesque red-coloured gowns like the Nerul-based college RAIT had.

Moving forward, now this is focusing only on my college because commenting on something that I haven’t seen or experienced goes against the policies of this blog. I have only so much info about the ceremonies that took place in other colleges, and most of my friends tend to exaggerate without even realizing. The reporting time set by my college was 11 AM, and at around that time, the main verandah in front of the office was an example of total chaos. Students from different Engineering streams stood there with no discipline at all. Not that discipline was something to be expected from them, but the thought that these misbehaving people, all in their early twenties, were going to be awarded one of the world’s popular degrees was somewhat disturbing. Moments later I joined my group of friends, and soon I was one of them, chatting and shaking hands with my classmates and other colleagues like we had gathered for a party where people with jobs threw their weight about around people without them. Of course, people pursuing Masters were not going to jump into a flight for this mockery of an event. Even the jet lag from that flight wouldn’t be worth of attending the ceremony.

The second biggest highlight of that day was the unavailability of a large auditorium which could seat all of those who were going to graduate (sans the smarter people who chose to stay at home). My college has a tiny seminar hall with a capacity of hundred or so people, and to everyone’s dismay, the convocation ceremony took place in it. This is how it worked: Because there are only so few students in the rare Engineering stream of Printing and Packaging Technology (PPT), they were sent inside first. The group of students bought their academicals and marched into the tiny room. After the ceremony, these students were asked to expedite their actions of clicking photos and selfies and returning the gowns because it was the time of the IT stream to go inside, and there are only a limited number of gowns available. Since the PPT students were few in number, IT and Computer stream students didn’t have much problem. Things took an ugly turn when the beasts – Mechanical and EXTC stream students – entered the scene, and unfortunately, I was from one of them.

While me and my friends were lucky to get our regalia soon as we arrived, some of our classmates had to wait. But since there was another version of chaos brewing at the tiny room, only 10 students were allowed to enter its lobby at a time, which was exactly the point when I crossed my ‘graduation day’ threshold.

I wanted to see my friends and classmates and the people whom I care for receiving their degrees. I wanted to click pictures of them receiving their degrees. I wanted to be snapped sitting with hundreds of students in arranged rows by the college-appointed photographer. I wanted to listen to candid speeches by college toppers, wanted to see them posing with their overjoyed parents. I wanted to bring my parents, wanted to click pictures with them. I wanted to feel those moments, and what I really got was a certificate stashed into my hands by some aged guy (probably a professor) wearing a red robe whom I didn’t know and whom I (or any one of the rest of the nine people) wasn’t introduced to before (the PPT guys might know who he was), and clicked by a lazy photographer who was in a rush. The only good thing that happened in the tiny auditorium was the compering, which was carried out by a student who thankfully remarked the achievements of certain meritorious students as they stepped onto the dais.

Between receiving the degree and walking towards the exit door, I was sought and requested to leave the room right away by, at last count, three people. Like it would take me a trek to get out of that tiny, non-air-conditioned auditorium! Anyways, after leaving the room, I was stopped by a volunteer and requested to snap as many photos of mine as soon as possible so that I could return my gown because the Mechanical stream guys were waiting and you don’t want to mess with them. There was also a rumour doing the rounds that someone had taken their gown home. The humour! The humour!

There was no proper dress code, and neither were the parents invited to the ceremony. My goodness, I would have needed cylinders of oxygen if that were to happen. Still, some students came in with their happy parents and probably went back home with horror in their eyes. River of tea flowing in front of the office, stamps of shoes on this river as it got thinner and thinner and wider and wider as time and more feet passed, students roaming around here and there because someone lost their hood, someone lost their mortarboard, someone misplaced their lakh-worth degree certificate, people complaining about mismanagement, etcetera.

The whole ceremony was nowhere near to what I had imagined. A graduation ceremony for what it’s really worth should be dealt with finesse and at least a dot of respect; that’s why in popular culture these ceremonies are regarded with reverence. Because it takes a person years to get a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree, the conferring committee should at least take the pains to organize a blasting ceremony that will be remembered by its passing-out students for years and who will share the stories that happen during this ceremony in the future alumni meets.

It has been hardly a week since I smiled into a camera wearing a rented graduation robe and holding my degree certificate, and I have no good memory of that day. Except that of the river of tea.

But who are we kidding!? An institution that cannot afford to rent few hundred gowns for the most happiest day of a part of their students’ academic lives is a testament to the fact that education in India is, sadly, only a business, nothing else.

What have been your experiences?

How to Survive the Initial Days Of Degree After Diploma?

A lot of people had to say a lot of things about an article that I wrote on why diploma before degree in Engineering might be a bad idea for most (in India). So, here’s a follow-up in case you still took the diploma route: a primer of sorts on how to survive the initial period of engineering degree (BE or B.Tech) after you have completed your diploma.

A friend of mine also just painfully completed three years of his life-changing four-year diploma course (which included a year of training as part of the curriculum) and he is kinda in a kettle of fish unable to cope up. This guide is for people like him.

What is the Degree Situation After Diploma?

You have just passed out of diploma and you aspire to enroll for an engineering degree course in some extremely fashionable college with decent education and faculty. SIES Graduate School of Technology in Nerul, Navi Mumbai, for instance. Mind you, every single college is different in its own way but when it comes to the quality of education and faculty and other ‘features’, things are almost the same across Mumbai. What matters is how you manage yourself and your studies while you are in college. I say this not because I have studied in different colleges, but because I have honest friends who all write or talk about them endlessly.

And you are worried about how you will cope up with a new group of students because you will be a direct second-year student. Worry not, because in no particular order, here are the things that you should worry about as well as how you can get past them…

Issues to Deal with in Your First Year of Engineering

  • Quota or No Quota: The online admission process sucks. You need to choose which one university you will opt for the next three years of your life. Some options are the politically controlled University of Mumbai, the unmindful Pune University, and some other state universities like the popular ones in Chennai and New Delhi. After you get out of the selection universe (that’s a bad pun), think about your ancestral origins. If your cast certificate (get one immediately if you don’t have it; domicile and creamy layer certificates are equally important; Aadhaar card too) says SC/ST/NT/OBC or any other caste that falls in the “minority” category you need not worry at all. Colleges will come to your doorstep. If you are one of those ‘open’ caste-wala, then we are rowing the same boat (although I reached the beach in 2015). Worry not, colleges like SIES, Father Agnel’s, and K J Somaiya have minority quota for the poor ‘open’ guys which means if you are a south-Indian or a Gujarati, procuring a seat will be slightly easier in these colleges. Consider all the choices you have. Do not consult your relatives
  • Scholarships: Your fees will be in the range of a few lakhs depending upon the admission criteria i.e. donation or no donation; in comparison, students who come in through the caste quota pay only a fraction of what you pay. Once you start attending the lectures, make sure you check for the websites of trusts which give scholarships. For Gujaratis, there are hundreds of community-run trusts. But we all – open folks – should be interested in the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust Scholarship, which will give you your full fees back, or at least 90% of it. Trust me, 90% people who apply for it get the cash. The good part is: you can apply every year; the bad part: you have to score above 80% aggregate. Your chances of getting the scholarship increases if you go beyond 90%
  • Extra Lectures: Most colleges who want their students to do well academically will conduct extra classes. Sit for these lectures and you won’t have anything to complain
  • Tuition/Classes/Mentors: I won’t suggest any of them. I have friends (who were toppers during diploma) that flunked in subjects even after giving thousands to those professors who have the most bumptious nicknames like “Don”, “Raja”, “RR” of RR classes, “Mangal”, “Hero”, and “Saviour”. They will eat your wallet and time. Many people who join these classes boast about how their professors had set the previous year’s paper and how they are sure they will get a whiff of what questions will come in the present year. They are either lying or being fooled by their tutors.[1]However, recently I have found that these claims are true. Especially professors who are tied to the University of Mumbai. They do act unscrupulously and list out questions that are bound to appear in the final board exams. People suggest you take extra classes for Mathematics, but I will recommend you to first get your basics clear by buying some reference books of first year engineering degree. They work if you study well. Also, do not rely on Techmax publications which only spoon-feed you the concepts and make you forget them when the need arises. Get hold of actual author books and things will be much different. I have read Bhargava’s Basic Electronic System two times and now years after I completed engineering, I still know how a BJT works. Or do I?
  • Efforts: Do a little (10%) more than what you did during your diploma times. That ten percent will give rise to about forty percent in degree, which is the minimum passing mark
  • Teacher’s Pet: This doesn’t work in degree. Teachers already have their pets, and diploma students are considered aliens. Your best bet is to eye a new-comer professor. He/She will support you like you will support him. And if he/she talks your mother’s tongue, bingo!
members of agnel polytechnic student council 2011
My time at the student council during diploma days helped me face the degree days. That’s me fourth from the left.
  • The Student Council: Try and join it. People (both teachers and students) will know you and soon, things will be nice and easy. This is by far the best thing to do in order to survive the initial period of degree after diploma in engineering. Because even if you cannot fare well in studies, these extracurricular activities will keep you going. After all, college life should be a mix of studies and fun.[2]As suggested by a close friend Sushanth Nair, it will take more than the student council to become popular in college. You will have to be lively and extremely social. You should know people, and above that, know how to interact with them. You also need not join a council to be popular among the people. Just skip the lectures and hang out around the canteen patting cats or dogs. If people notice you, bingo!

I won’t stretch this because I don’t have the power to turn an introvert into an extrovert. There’s one more soft rule that you can follow in your first few weeks in engineering degree: talk to as many people as you can and build healthy relationships. This could be with your classmates, college mates, professors, stationery shopkeepers, chaiwallas, etc. The more people you know the better you will swim out of your engineering course.

All I can say is, everyone can pull this off if they believe they really want to excel in this field. Concentration is key. If something doesn’t seem right, talk about it with your family. Or girlfriend. Or boyfriend. And then maybe change your career path. It is the 21st century and you don’t have to stick to a course if you don’t feel like it. TN.

Featured image courtesy: @rizsam (Unsplash)

Update: Copyedited; revised. (31 January 2019)

Update #2: Copyedited; removed stereotypes related to the caste system; added images. (19 September 2019)


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footnotes   [ + ]

1. However, recently I have found that these claims are true. Especially professors who are tied to the University of Mumbai. They do act unscrupulously and list out questions that are bound to appear in the final board exams.
2. As suggested by a close friend Sushanth Nair, it will take more than the student council to become popular in college. You will have to be lively and extremely social. You should know people, and above that, know how to interact with them. You also need not join a council to be popular among the people. Just skip the lectures and hang out around the canteen patting cats or dogs. If people notice you, bingo!