12 December 2017 15:50

Sandra Wearden had more of an insight than most into the behind-the-scenes workings of her graduation day – after achieving a PhD in degree ceremonies. 

The former diplomat and management consultant decided to change career path after becoming fascinated with rituals and celebrations across different cultures while living in Malaysia and the Middle East.

Now Sandra has marked her own graduation from Lancaster University, making sure to thank the teams who made it possible.

“I dropped mince pies off for the marshals, cleaners and porters with a thank you card”, said Sandra, 53. “These people give so much of themselves to make sure the students have the best possible experience and I think that’s why I love it. People are doing it not for themselves but for the students, so it is a great feeling to be involved.”

After spending the last six years researching rituals for her PhD entitled The Perpetuation of Degree Ceremonies, within the Department of Educational Research, Sandra said her own graduation allowed her to see the event from a different angle.

She said: “It was lovely to recognise people on the stage, and I really appreciated all the work of people working behind the scenes. I definitely felt like I was graduating because a PhD is a significant undertaking for anybody. For me, there was a sense of completion and the end of one type of relationship with the University, and the beginning of another relationship joining the alumni network.”

Sandra said she has always been interested in cultures, and said: “When I came to look at that in higher education, I wanted to look at degree ceremonies. I wanted to look at how they are constructed, I wanted to take an institutional look at the organisers and the people who work behind the scenes.”

Sandra, who lives in Lancaster, now hopes to continue working in the field of graduation ceremonies and said: “I’m so fascinated by them and there’s so little research. I’m going to start my own business. I want to start my own website for institutions wanting to set up their own degree ceremonies, and I would like to write a book to explain the historical associations of some of the artefacts.”

She thanked the teams who helped make her research possible, particularly Honorary Archivist Marion McClintock MBE, and said: “She’s been extraordinarily generous giving me access to the archives.”