Monday 25 March 2013

Pomp and ceremony

I flew up from Sydney (NSW) to Townsville (QLD) last week to attend my Master of Astronomy graduation ceremony, taking DS1 along for the experience (and to try some snorkelling on the great barrier reef). I hadn't bothered attending my last couple of graduations (for Graduate Diplomas), but this time I decided to attend as my niece happened to also be graduating at the same ceremony (with an honours degree in microbiology), and because getting a Masters degree had been one of my long-term goals - and also because it might also be the last of my graduations that my parents are able to attend (they're each about 80 years old now). I was pleasantly surprised to be awarded an Academic Medal at the graduation ceremony (getting it wasn't a certainty, and they won't let you know beforehand if you will get the award), so overall I'm happy that I decided to make the effort to travel the 1600km to attend graduation. DS1 seemed duly impressed by all the pomp and ceremony (and he managed to stay awake during all the speeches!), but I'm glad I didn't drag DS2 along as he would have been bored to death.
Attending graduation wasn't particularly cheap, with the cost of the long-weekend coming close to the total fees I'd paid out for the degree (around $2500)! Return airfares for DS1 and myself were about $500, and the four nights accomodation for us and my parents all (sharing one room with one queen size and two single beds) was another $500 or so. The motel was quite basic but clean and tidy, and was very well situated - just across the street from the beachfront, and only a short walk from the marina, aquarium and museum. DS1 had a great time at the nearby 'waterworks' playground.

For this graduation I chose to pay $175 to purchase the academic gown, hood and 'mortar board', as it may be possible to use the same gown at my MSc and PhD graduations in the future (only the colour of the hood and the style of silly hat changes). If nothing else I'll be able to use it as 'Harry Potter' fancy dress at the office Christmas party ;) Renting the gear would have cost about $85, which is quite expensive considering academic gowns hardly ever vary in design (although JCU did change their choice of gown style in the 1990s - from a tropical tan colour to the more traditional black gown), and gowns get hardly any wear-and-tear during a graduation ceremony. The uni co-op bookshop (which has a virtual monopoly on gown supply and hire) must be on a real money-spinner, as they can rent out the same gear at 3-4 ceremonies each year, given that the rental charge must be about the same as the wholesale cost! The biggest cost to them would be for ironing and storage of gowns between ceremonies.

Although DS1 and my parents took some snapshots of the graduation ceremony, the professional photos turned out quite nicely, so I've ordered four photos for about $110 (2 20x25cm photos for $32 each, one 25x33cm photo for $49.50, and a 'free' [for spending over $100] 20x25cm 'stage crossing' photo). Not quite as cheap as digital prints from Big W (15c for a 15x10cm print, or $2.94 for a 20x25cm print)! Although the exhorbitant cost of one set of prints can be somewhat justified by the time and cost of using a professional photographer and equipment (and I assume the uni also gets some benefit from appointing the 'official' photography company), charging the same amount for reprints seems counter-productive. Although the photos copyright is retained by the photography firm, I can't imagine many students will fork out $32 for a 20x25cm reprint. And since the 'professional' stage crossing photo doesn't look 11x better than the one my 12-year-old son took, the cost-benefit just isn't there.

Other costs associated with attending the graduation ceremony included a post-graduation dinner at a local restaurant (about $50 a head for a main course, plus drinks etc.), and three days of sight-seeing while in Townsville (it definitely wouldn't have been worthwhile just flying up for the graduation ceremony, staying overnight and flying back the following day!). Taxi trips cost around $10 each around town (good value with four people sharing a cab), and a half-day sailing schooner cruise at Magnetic Island for snorkelling cost $110 pp (lunch, snorkelling gear and use of a 'stinger suit' for the jellyfish are included). A family ticket for the reef aquarium cost a little over $40, and the local museum cost about the same (nice displays of fossils from Riversleigh, artifacts from the shipwreck Pandora (sent after the Bounty mutineers), and tropical insects).

My next graduations (for a MSc(Res) and/or a PhD) should be a lot cheaper, as they will be held here in Sydney - so I'll only have to pay for parking (and for renting a different hood and 'silly hat') ;)

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