Friday, March 21, 2014

Graduation: Posters, eggs, and other mischief

Yesterday at the tiny supermarket near the university, a couple of guys were stocking up on eggs, flour, and vinegar. I heard the cashier say, "Poverino!… o poverina?" (Poor him!… or poor her?). They replied, "Poverini!" (poor them!). Who are these poor people who were about to get eggs smashed on them, flour dumped on them, and vinegar poured on them? GRADUATES! 

My research is not thorough, but it seems that, since medieval times (remember, the University of Padua was founded in 1222), groups of rebellious (and, nowadays, pretty much all) students participate in a tradition known as "goliardia". Goliardia is a pretty broad term, but over the centuries has evolved to encompass the tradition of celebrating graduates with small, street parties involving costumes, garlands, posters, chanting, and general mischief (e.g., egging the graduate). 

It's spring here and many people are graduating! However, in Italy, there are not formal graduation ceremonies like in the U.S. Instead, grads are celebrated individually -and publicly- by family and friends, whenever they happen to finish their degrees.  

For example, at least every day now, I  hear groups of  people running around chanting, "Dottore! Dottore!" when someone completes their PhD. I also see graduates walking around town, surrounded by friends and family, wearing crowns/garlands of green leaves.

The flower shop conveniently located across from Il Bo sells crowns of leaves for grads, like the one hanging here
Both flower shops and printers are very busy at this time of year, as graduates are also celebrated on posters (papiri), created by friends and pasted all around the university grounds (outdoors). These posters include caricatures of the grad, photos, silly bios, and, of course, the official seal of the U., the person's name and newly minted degree.   

Example of a papiro
Finally, there seems to be some sort of "ceremony" in which all of these elements come together, right in the center of town, outside the historic Palazzo del Bo (known as simply, Il Bo), the heart of the university. Groups gather to celebrate the grads, dressing them in silly costumes related to their field of study, and then cover them with eggs, flour, and vinegar while they read their papiri to the groups.
A grad, probably in the health professions, dressed for her "ceremony".
Another "povera"… can't distinguish the costume, but she is covered in eggs and generally gross stuff, as she reads her papiro to the crowd. 

Maybe it's all worth it, as afterwards everyone comes into Il Bo to take pictures in this beautiful, historic setting.

It's all in good fun, and certainly a memorable way to celebrate graduation. However, the University makes a point to not be officially involved in any of this nonsense:
"Warning to Graduates of Psychology: Family and friends of the graduates are kindly invited to wait and party outside the university buildings. Any form of disturbance to normal teaching and working activities will not be tolerated".  

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