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Student life

»Hang in and work hard – but also hang out « — 4,000 new students at matriculation party

Matriculation — More than 4,000 future students were at the annual party Friday to be welcomed by the Rector, listen to the band Artigeardit, and to meet new friends.

It is a huge undertaking. Head of the Studenterhuset Jacob Ørum and ten volunteers have planned and prepared the matriculation ceremony non-stop for a whole week. Pavilions have to be set up, drinks transported, and beer tanks in the basement filled so they don’t run during the after party.

This morning, during an acoustic audition with the artist Artigeardit, the team shuffled back and forth between the Frue Plads square and Studenterhuset with a trolley.

»I guess we have about 1.5 tons of drinks,« Jacob Ørum said behind the bar, just before the gates were opened and students packed into the square.

The matriculation ceremony is exclusively for new students, who during the course of this week were shunted around by intro week tutors. To entice as many students as possible to the welcoming ceremony, Studenterhuset had planned something specific for the intro tutors while they were waiting for their new students.

»The tutors are not allowed to join the party on Frue Plads, so to entice them to bring the new students down here, we have put out some rolled turf in front of the Round Tower, where the tutors can buy cheap beer,« says Jacob Ørum.

At the square on Frue Plads, a large stage had been erected to the left of the bronze bust of physicist Niels Bohr. Portable toilets were at each end of the square, and between them new students could take part in the University Post quiz, try their hand at the team sport Spikeball or make new friends at a ‘speed-friend dating tent’. It is a new concept this year, and the team behind it had absolutely no expectations on how it will be received.

»It rained cats and dogs last year, and people stood around, shuffling a bit. We offer a number of conversation-starter questions, so that people can get to know some new people,« one of the organisers says.

But when the doors open at 2 pm, it is clear that the friend pavilion is a success.

New students

The annual welcome is equal parts tradition and party. When the university was founded to educate male priests, it was with an oath, where the students swore that he would ‘comply with the university’s laws, statutes and praiseworthy customs’. It was the end of a previous life and the beginning of a new academic career.

Until the end of the 18th century, the transition was marked by a brutal ritual, according to the University of Copenhagen’s own website:

»Where the older students often initiated new students via different forms of humiliation or mistreatment, and finished off with a bout of drinking.«

Since then, the brutal tradition of humiliation has been replaced by the present speech from the rector, a concert, and stalls in the Lindegården courtyard where enrobed deans serve chocolate cake. The celebration at Studenterhuset for the tutors is outside the university’s jurisdiction, so you have to find that yourself.

But the matriculation is basically the same now as before. It is a tradition that welcomes new students to what Rector Henrik C. Wegener in his speech called: »A republic of science,« and »a kingdom of education«.

Mohamed Ahmed did not get this specific memo when he showed up for the matriculation ceremony. He had heard that there would be other students, that there would be a concert, and that rector would give a speech. He had no idea what he was going in for.

»I have come to meet other students and get friends. I have just moved to Asserbo from Egypt, so I would like to get a larger network in Denmark,« he says.

Mohamed Ahmed is not the only one who wants a larger network here. The friend pavillion is quickly filled up far beyond the edge of the tent. Three exchange students, two from Barcelona and one from the Netherlands, hardly get to see the card with the conversation starter, before talking.

»I drove here by car and arrived yesterday. It took ten hours from the Netherlands with two bikes in the back and all my bags,« says Jeltje Spapens, 22, who is to study neuroscience.

»My mum just asked what I am doing, but I couldn’t really explain it, because I don’t quite know what’s going on. But this is fun.«

There is a struggle to get the spots in the shadow by the church, where students sit and rest. It is one of the last, intensely hot, days of the summer, and the week after looks to be rainy and grey. In the middle of the crowd is Signe Gudnason, who is to study molecular biomedicine. She met her class for the first time the day before, and they have partied until five o’clock in the morning.

»It was a bit awkward at first, where we had to do all the classic kindergarten getting-to-know-each-other games. Do you prefer Pepsi or a Coke? But it turned out to be fun, and they seemed nice,« says Signe Gudnason.

»I came in a bit late because I had so much of a hangover. I have to meet with some of the people from my class, but it’s impossible to find anyone. I just heard that there would be beer and Artigeardit.«

There is, actually, no beer.

»Well, there is Artigeardit. If I don’t find them, I’ll just pretend I’m a law student and join them instead. They will never know,« she laughs.

Welcome to the club

After about an hour, the real matriculation begins. Artigeardit does a short performance from the stage, while confetti showers the audience. Presenter and children’s TV host Sofie Østergård talks to the students in the front row about being nervous and excited before introducing rector Henrik C. Wegener, who arrives to the sound of high-pitched trumpets.

Wearing the rector’s ritual cloak and a copy of the original rector’s chain, which succumbed to the 1807 British bombardment of Copenhagen, he welcomes the students with the words:

»Each and every one of you is now citizens of the same university. It is your new home country. A republic of science. A kingdom of education.«

But there are also less ceremonial moments, where the sea of humans laughs and claps. Like when he encourages students to help each other through his or her studies.

»The secret of getting through your degree is not only to hang in and work hard alone, but also to hang out and work, together,« he says from the stage in front of an Artigeardits drum set and keyboards.

The war in Ukraine and the climate crisis are mentioned. The same is performance anxiety and loneliness on the degree programme. Artigeardit comes on again after all the deans, each with their own coloured band on their robes, are presented, and hailed. But after the concert, the rector’s words have not been forgotten, and several of the 4,000 participants mention the speech as a high point.

Coffee and cake

Rector Henrik C. Wegener and prorector, Kristian Cedervall Lauta, now get ready on the staircase that leads into the Ceremonial Hall to shake hands with all the students. Some are able to take a selfie with the rector, while others hurry past.

»Shouldn’t we just shake hands with that guy?,« a young guy asks his group of friends and points to the prorector.

There is a long queue in front of the rector, while the queue in front of the prorector, who is sporting a Go-Pro around his waste, is shorter, so the group rushes through. In the Ceremonial Hall, students gape at the light, the colours, the wooden panels and the ancient decadence of it all. And when the new students step out into the Lindegården courtyard, they go straight down to the dean’s cake tent where the deans serve chocolate cake to the multitude.

A whole group of new vet students are wearing cat ears, tails and painted whiskers on their cheeks. They say that their tutors had given them the costumes with a message that everyone will be dressed up like this for matriculation. Everyone was not. The cats munch on their cupcakes before they go out and eat with their tutors to finish the day off with a party.

»It was a good prank,« one cat says, and laughs.

The handshaking continues for a few hours, and a straight line of people has emerged between Frue Plads and Studenterhuset. The cleanup is already in process, the official part of it, and the ritual has ended. New students have gathered on the turf in front of the Round Tower. Now the feast begins.