The formal opening ceremony of the academic year 2016-2017 was held on Wednesday 21st of September in the grand Palau de la Música de València. Organized by University CEU Cardenal Herrera, the ceremony signalled the symbolic start of the new semester and was, as usual, rich with tradition.
Not familiar with Spanish university traditions? Here is our helpful guide to walk you through the ceremony and all its intricate symbols.
The ceremony act by act
The academic act of the opening ceremony began with the traditional academic procession, during which the academic personnel from each faculty of the University, the invited guests of the ceremony, and the University authorities marched into the ceremony hall in order and took their appointed places. Right after the procession the University choir performed the hymn Veni Creator, and several speeches followed.
The first of the speeches was delivered by the Secretary General of the University Dr. José Amiguet Esteban in remembrance of the past academic year, looking back at the important events, projects, and figures of the previous year. Every year a guest speaker from the academic staff is invited to give a lecture, lección magistral, on a topic of their choice. This year the lecture was on the importance of observation in medical profession as inspired by observing illness in art, delivered by Dr. Vicente Rodilla Alama from the Faculty of Health Sciences.
The two speeches were followed by the presentation of recognitions and awards. The University’s charity projects, Misiones Solidarias, were recognised for their charity work, and awards for Innovation and Improvement of Teaching and University Services were presented. For instance, the Hospitality App created by the International Relations office was recognized for the support it gives to new international students of CEU UCH. This year, the University’s Medal of Merit was awarded to the Pharmacists’ Association in Valencia, the Colegio Oficial de Farmacéuticos de Valencia.
Finally came the opening speech of the Rector Dr. Rosa Visiedo Claverol which included a word by the Chancellor Carlos Romero Caramelo. Last, the Rector’s final declaration of the opening of the academic year and the following celebratory singing of Gaudeamus Igitur concluded the ceremony.
Decoding the traje académico
Probably the most eye-catching feature of the opening ceremony was the traditional Spanish academic regalia, traje académico, worn by the academic authorities. First regulated by Queen Isabel II of Spain in 1850 and then standardised in 1931, the attire is told to have its origins in the habits worn by clergymen. The academic regalia consists of several parts, each of which also carry additional meanings.
A black robe, toga, made of wool or tergal fabric forms the base of the academic attire. The robe is worn not only by academic authorities, but also by lawyers and judges in the Spanish court: it is, in a way, a symbol of the wearer’s status.
An elbow-length cape muceta signals the academic field of its wearer. Worn on top of the robe, the cape is made of silk and has buttons down the front. However, its most important feature is the colour, as the colour of the cape always corresponds to its wearer’s field of study. For instance, red is the colour of law, fuchsia is reserved for dentistry, medicine is yellow, communications is grey, pharmacy is purple, and veterinary medicine is green. These colours are mostly standardised through the whole of Spain, although some colours have overlap between different universities. The Rector always wears a black velvet cape, different from the rest of the academic authorities.
The Spanish mortarboard birrete is a round cylindrical cap, topped with a tassel and fringe. The cap can reveal the status of its wearer: university doctors have a tassel that covers the whole upper part of the mortarboard, while graduates have a smaller tassel that hangs from the cap. Similarly to the cape, the colour of the mortarboard signals the academic field of its wearer. Again different from the rest, the Rector wears a black mortarboard.
The academic robe normally has coloured bands on the wrists, also corresponding to the colour of the field of study. University doctors, however, also wear long embroidered cuffs, puñetas, the colour of which again signals the academic field of the wearer. Once again different from the rest, the Rector wears pink cuffs.
In addition to the cuffs, university doctors wear white gloves that symbolise purity, good judgement, honour, and determination: all qualities which will come to use as they exercise their duties.
Sing along: the academic hymns
Music has been an important part of academic celebrations since the early days of university, and the continuing use of old and traditional university anthems emphasizes the value placed on such celebrations.
During the formal opening ceremony, two such traditional songs were sung in Latin. First at the beginning of the ceremony The Veni Creator Spiritus — Veni Creator for short — was performed by the university choir. The Veni Creator is an invocation of the Holy Spirit, and sung in academic events it acknowledges and glorifies the role of God in our intellectual and scientific pursuits.
The second song, Gaudeamus Igitur, was sung at the end of the ceremony. Although it is also a formal academic hymn, Gaudeamus Igitur is more light-hearted than Veni Creator: in fact, it was a popular drinking song among students in the early days of the university. The song encourages us to seize the day and enjoy life while we are young:
Iuvenes dum sumus.
Post iucundam iuventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
Let us rejoice, therefore,
While we are young.
After a pleasant youth
After a troubling old age
The earth will have us.
Keeping the traditions alive in this manner shows the value we place on the community university creates for us. And — let’s be honest — who can deny the fact that it makes for an impressive spectacle?