Graduation Without A Goodbye
The absence of a speech from an MSc student representative at the graduation on January 26th does not seem like such a big deal at a time when everyone is busy putting the finishing touches to their theses and preparing to return home. Indeed there was enough to celebrate without a speech, despite the fact that it is customary that a student addresses the audience on behalf of the entire graduating class. But the issue is not really about graduation or about speeches. The fact that no speech was given hints at a greater problem, relating to how foreign MSc students fit into the WAU, and whether or not they are adequately represented in various aspects of life here.
According to A.M. Lamberts of the Dean's Office, the students were given a letter during the exam period which requested nominations for a speech. We did have one response, but he has since withdrawn. This will not be the first time that the graduation has occurred without a speech from the students. We do not however choose someone - that is up to the students." Foreign Students' Dean J.W.M. Hermans explains, The only criterion we set is that he or she must be among those graduating. We expect the students to decide among themselves." MAKS graduate Mrs. Nakiganda from Uganda commented, Yes, we got a letter. It would have been nice to have someone say something, but I guess nobody wanted to do it." Yesim Yalcin Mendi, while celebrating becoming the first Turkish female to complete the Biotechnology Programme, admitted in a disappointed tone, I never received a letter about giving speeches, and I think it's too bad. Every programme should have o
ne person to say a few words, then at least you feel like there has been a proper goodbye." Hoang Quang Ha, Tropical Forestry graduate from Vietnam had really wanted to give a speech, but he admitted that his English was a little shaky and he could not be sure that what he wanted to say would have been representative of everyone's opinions.
Had the MSc students wanted to gather for a nomination meeting, the difficulty remains that they have no fixed meeting place, where a large scale general assembly could be held. This is an old issue," according to Wanda Bemmelmans of the International Student Panel (ISP), who goes on to summarize, the Dutch Student Clubs were not particularly willing to cooperate in creating a specific venue for the foreign students. Things just didn't work out in a way suitable for everybody". Although the issue is not dead, for the time being, the International Club seems to be the only place where foreign students could hold a meeting. As a location for meetings it is not particularly suitable, and there are other problematic issues such as opening hours, non-smoking facilities and membership fees.
Beyond the issue of where to meet, the foreign students have no body which represents their cross programme concerns. Ms. Bemmelmans admits that, Although the ISP in theory should be the place where the whole foreign MSc student body is represented as a unit, it doesn't work out that way in practice. We really should consider this in the future when we evaluate how things are going." Different programmes come together under the ISP and report to Ms. Bemmelmans and the executive panel, but there is no representative body. Students only have contact with other students through their representatives at the ISP. Most of the time these issues are technical matters relating to the programmes and the university. Taking as an example the issue of the nomination of someone to give a speech for the graduation, there is no official umbrella under which the students of one programme can discuss and vote with the students from another programme.
Through no fault of the ISP or the Dean's Office, a vicious circle has evolved whereby students often become too busy with their own work to bother getting involved in organizing themselves, especially over a relatively minor matter such as deciding who should give a speech. These and other issues tend to remain unsolved, and once students leave the next group encounters the same concerns. They would often like to see changes, but their most important challenge is completing on time. Ms. Bemmelmans adds, We set up the ISP so that the students could voice their opinions, but would not have to worry about the administrative side. They don't have the time for much more." The ISP and the Dean's office do their best to create avenues for the foreign student body to be represented and feel at home in Wageningen, but a small issue such as a speech at graduation reveals that they have a long way to go.