In a way, this was all about the gown. I fell in love with doctoral gowns a long time ago. Academic regalia is one of our last vestiges of a society that honored education. Once a year everyone involved puts on these outfits that denote their educational achievements and honor the new achievements of others. I have said I was doing this for the right to wear the gown, and there is some truth in that. I just wish we still wore them daily in academia rather than yearly. I’m sure it would be totally annoying (as Dorothy Sayers describes in Gaudy Night where the gowns the alumnae wear on campus become part of the plot), but still…
[I know this is totally hierarchical (I respond to hierarchies even as I may abhor them), but there is something egalitarian (or at least meritocratic) in the notion that anyone can go to school and earn a gown, especially–until recently–in the state of California with the amazing public education system. I do understand that there are a million reasons people may or may not be able to get an education and many of them are class/culture-based. While I didn’t really think about it growing up, I always had in the back of my mind that I could be a doctor if I wanted to be. Not everyone has that as an intrinsic part of their existence. This is one of the reasons I am so appalled at the education cuts in California. Our school that formerly offered education to everyone (and UCR has served a lot of first-generation college students) are becoming less and less able to do so. ::sigh::]
Well, that was a painful interlude. Let’s get back to the lifelong dream of the robes…
So imagine my surprise and delight to discover that Presbyterians (and other reformed churches) still honor that tradition. They wear academic robes to preach and preside. (In my low church experience, we knew vaguely about collars and maybe joked about them, but not really about preaching robes. Maybe because one doesn’t see them on TV and pastors don’t wear them outside service times.) And, as I was explaining on Sunday to anyone who would listen, originally in the reformation the academic gown was a sign that the pastor was NOT set above the parishioners. It was the “everyday” dress. Kind of like “thou” is the familiar form in English. Since we know longer use those terms or wear those robes, they have become formalized. Coffee Pastor, a UCC pastor, has recently been thinking and blogging about vestments and meaning in the 21st century over at his place (Vestments part I, part II, part III).
Along with all the other reasons I want a job, I want a job in academia so I can wear my robe to graduation. I’d wear it every day if I could–maybe not to the grocery store, but certainly to teach. So it makes me a wee bit crazy that the RevDoc wears her doctoral gown only about twice a year. She has other robes she prefers and she says it’s too hot and it’s more meaningful if she wears it less often. Probably. And I’ve watched. It is very intentional and purposeful when she does wear it. But still. If I’d earned it, I’d be wearing it. I’m just saying. 🙂
I’m laughing at myself as I write this. I do know I’m a little ridiculous in a nice, nerdy sort of way.
The line that did keep going through my head during graduation was from Macbeth: “Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?” (I.iii). I don’t know why that was the line for me for the day except I was in a robe, and it wasn’t borrowed, but it was passed on to me by my Canadian friend who graduated last year. And he came down for the celebration! But I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet. That’s my gown and I earned the right to wear it, even if I never have another opportunity to do so (but I hope I do.)
I may yet wear it to the grocery store.