The Conferment Ceremony of the Faculty of Philosophy of University of Helsinki is part of a thousand-year tradition in the world of academic ceremonies. By taking part in the Conferment Ceremony, and only by doing so, the Masters of Arts and Sciences and Doctors of Philosophy receive the right to wear the symbols of their academic status from the faculty: the Master’s wreath and ring or the Doctoral hat and sword. During its history the essence of the Conferment Ceremony has stayed the same even though some parts of the festivities have changed to better suit their time.
The Conferment Ceremony of the Faculty of Philosophy is the oldest and greatest of all academic festivities and ceremonies in Finland. During the Middle Ages the universities were a part of the Catholic Church, and the language used in church was Latin. Latin was a very influential and important language in many ways, and it was also used in academic contexts. Because universities were part of the church, the teachers and students were able to enjoy the privileges that were normally only granted to priests. This was the start of the academic freedom we are familiar with today.
The University of Bologna is thought to be the first Western university. It was given permission to grant academic degrees by the pope and the emperor. Later, when other universities were established, they were granted the same rights. From the beginning of its history, the act of conferment has been the highlight of the event. During the act the Masters received the right to wear the symbols of their academic status from the faculty: the Master’s wreath (originally a red hat) and ring. Because the universities were part of the church, the Conferment Act is followed by an ecumenical service. After this a festive dinner was organized for the graduated and other guests.
The Conferment Ceremony arrived in Finland when the governor-general Pehr Brahe founded a university in Turku in 1640. During this time Finland was still a part of Sweden. The traditions and rituals of the Conferment Ceremony were greatly influenced by the universities of Paris, Prague and Uppsala. In the year 1643 the first Conferment Ceremony was held with only a handful of Masters. From that year on the Conferment Ceremony was held in Turku every four years because the ceremonies were organized in turns with the three other universities in Sweden. In addition to the Conferment Act, church service and dinner, the programme of the Conferment Ceremony could also include various other performances like for example musical performances, poem reciting and theatrical plays.
During the 17th century, the Conferment Ceremony was often celebrated together with other significant events like for example when the sovereign was visiting Turku. Little by little the language of the celebratory poems started to shift from Latin to Swedish. It also marked the beginning of commissioning the conferment poems from professional poets. In the beginning of the 18th century the end of the university year changed from the beginning of May to around the 13th of May. The spring celebration evolved into Flower’s Day, a celebration of spring and flowers.
One of the most significant changes happened when Finland stopped being a part of Sweden and became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire in 1809: After the Great Fire of Turku, the Emperor Nikolai I moved the university to Helsinki. Russian emperors doubled the budget of the university, and this prosperity made the Conferment Ceremony longer and grander than before. In the beginning of the 18th century the Conferment Ceremony was divided into two parts: one for the Masters and another for the Doctors. Also, the Jubilee Masters who had participated in the conferment 50 years before started to be included in the event. In the middle of the 18th century the first Honorary Doctors were inaugurated. It also became a tradition to select a daughter of one of the professors of the Faculty of Philosophy to act as the official wreath-weaver who would make the laurel wreaths to those Master promovendi who didn’t have their own companion. At the time all promovendi were men and their companions were women.
Towards the end of the century the Conferment Ceremony grew into a three-day celebration. The wreath-weaving evolved into a dinner event and the Conferment Ball became an event of its own instead of being merely a part of the Conferment Dinner. At the same time the Conferment Excursion was added to the schedule of the day of the Conferment Ball. During the Excursion participants would travel by boat or by coach to have lunch and enjoy nature. The Conferment Ball was influenced by the imperial balls of the Saint Petersburg court, which led to some new rituals and activities being added: the Honorary Chair Carrying (kunniakanto), the Sword Arch (miekkakuja) for Doctors and the Maccaroni-procession. The Conferment Ceremony gathered all the gentry together in a time when Finland’s state and governmental ceremonies hadn’t yet fully formed so the Conferment was well-known throughout the country.
After the First World War and the Finnish Civil War, the first Conferment Ceremony of independent Finland was celebrated in 1919. In this ceremony the regent Carl Gustaf Mannerheim was inaugurated as the Honorary Doctor, and his daughter acted as the official wreath-weaver. During the 1920’s and 1930’s the language of the Conferment Ceremony changed to Finnish, and it became a tradition to have both Finnish and Swedish conferment poems. At the same time the Conferment Ceremony was criticized for how expensive it was. The Second World War caused a pause in the ceremonies, and after the war the Conferment Ceremonies aimed at restoring the conferment traditions as they were before the war. During the 1960’s and 1970’s the participation in the Conferment Ceremony decreased, and the tradition was even heavily criticized to be a bourgeois extravaganza of the old world.
In the beginning of the 1980’s the Conferment Ceremony underwent a renaissance along with other academic traditions. In the year 2014 there were so many participants that the Main Building of the University ran out of space. Because the Conferment Ceremony has been so popular, the frequency of the ceremonies has been increased since the end of 2010’s to accommodate all those who want to participate in the event. Therefore, there might not be an actual Jubilee Conferment 50 years ago for all the current ceremonies.
The Conferment Ceremony has been accepted as a part of the Finnish List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity because it is one of the oldest ceremonies still organized in Finland with its 400-year-old tradition. In the spring of 2023, the 100th Conferment Ceremony of the Faculty of Philosophy will take place.
Traditions in organizing the Conferment Ceremony
When does the Conferment Ceremony take place?
The Conferment Ceremony is a glorious graduation ceremony and therefore usually organized at the end of the academic year in May or June. The event is a festive graduation ceremony, and its purpose is to give the people who are graduating a festive way to move into the next chapter of their lives.
The academic song culture is a part of the Conferment Ceremony. The oldest song is the well-known academic commercium song Gaudeamus igitur dating back to the 1270s. During the ecumenical service at the Conferment Ceremony in 1897, the hymn Soi kunniaksi Luojan by Jean Sibelius was so popular that it ended up in the official hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Especially during the small hours of Sunday, the academic song culture shines when people sing various songs at Esplanadi Boulevard. The Nocturnal Procession ends with the song Teinilaulu in front of the Main Building of the University.
Ceremonial dances originating from the 19th Century are one of the specialties of the Conferment Ceremony. Because dancing was an important skill in the high society of the 19th Century, the University hired a teacher who was specialized in teaching these dances. Master promovendi can volunteer to dance the Masters’ Contredanse Française and Doctor promovendi can volunteer to dance the Doctoral Polonaise. Volunteers practice these dances for weeks before the Conferment Ceremony, so the dance itself flows beautifully at the Conferment Ball. Due to the symmetry of the dances, dance pairs are required to follow the black and white dress code.
Besides the ceremonial dances, other dances are danced too. Many Finnish people remember these dances from their high school prom but they are also usually danced at the annual celebrations of the university societies. The most common dances are polonaise, Mignon, Cicapo (or Picador), waltz, Pas d’Espagne and Pas de Quatre. These dances are open for everyone, and they are sometimes practiced before the Conferment Ceremony.
The Conferment Matricula
All the promovendi who are conferred at the Conferment Ceremony are written in the Conferment Matricula. From the Matricula it is easy to check who was conferred either in person or in absentia with you. In the Matricula there are also brief introductions of the Jubilee Masters and Doctors, the Honorary Doctors and of the people who were conferred 100 years ago.
Languages of the Conferment Ceremony
The official languages of the Conferment Ceremony are Finnish, Swedish, and English, according to the official language strategy of University of Helsinki. All these languages can be heard in the speeches during the Conferment. The Conferment Committee or the giver of the speech can also use other languages if they so wish.
Latin is also an important language because some Latin texts are still a part of the Ceremony. Many titles are also derived from Latin. Latin is especially important in the Conferment Act which involves traditions that date back to the Middle Ages and to the University of Bologna. Nowadays Latin is a dead language and it is used as a neutral universal language at universities because it’s not owned by any one community.
The titles of the 100th Conferment Ceremony
Many titles of the Conferment Ceremony are based on Latin words that have grammatical gender such as Primus/Prima (the promovendus who got the best grade for their thesis), Magister/Magistra (Master) or Doctor/Doctrix (Doctor). The Finnish titles have been gendered too, such as seppeleensitoja (m.) and seppeleensitojatar (f.) (Wreath-weaver).
In accordance with a decision made by the previous Conferment Committee, the Conferment this year will use the grammatical masculine as a neutral default form. The masculine has served as the base form when these words have been borrowed into other languages (e.g. Swedish magister, which is gender-neutral), so they were felt to be more readily understandable. Other universities in different countries also often use the masculine form in Latin in their diplomas. However, people who prefer to use the form magistra or doctrix may indicate so when signing up.
People of the Conferment Ceremony
An official of the Conferment Ceremony chosen by the Faculty. The Officiants are the Conferrer, the Master of Ceremonies, and the Head Marshal.
The Conferrer confers or bestows the academic status of Master or Doctor to the promovendi. The highest-ranking person in the Conferment Ceremony.
Master of Ceremonies
The Master of Ceremonies is responsible for making all ceremonial aspects of the events go smoothly.
The Head Marshal is, together with the Master of Ceremonies, responsible for all events proceeding smoothly, and is in charge of the marshals.
A group of volunteers responsible for organising the Conferment Ceremony, composing of Master and Doctor promovendi. The committee is led by the Gratisti.
The Gratisti is the Chair of the Conferment Committee, selected from amongst themselves by the promovendi of said committee. The Gratisti may have one or several Vice-gratistis.
Traditionally marshals were young students but nowadays marshals can be any kind of students. Marshals assist the Master of Ceremonies and the Head Marshal. Their duties include guiding guests and standing as honorary guards. You can recognize them by a broad ribbon worn over one shoulder and a student cap.
Promovendi (pl.), singular promovendus
A Master of Arts or Sciences or a Doctor of Philosophy who will have their rank bestowed upon them in the Conferment Ceremony. Magister Primus/Ultimus and Doctor Primus/Ultimus are chosen from among all the promovendi. They have some ceremonial duties like speeches for example.
Magister Primus and Doctor Primus
The promovendus who got the best grade for their thesis. The Primus has to answer the Conferment Question in the Conferment Act.
Magister Ultimus and Doctor Ultimus
The promovendus who got the second best grade for their thesis.
On Flower’s Day, the 13th of May, the promovendi meet in the morning at the Old Student House to select the official wreath-weaver for the Conferment Ceremony. Their duties include supervising the crafting of the laurel wreaths. The official wreath-weaver is selected from among the children of the professors of the Faculty or of some other person the promovendi wish to honour. The official wreath-weaver symbolizes spring, youth and faith in the future.
A companion of a Master promovendus. The wreath-weaver makes the laurel wreath of their Master promovendus’ by tying or sewing the fresh leaves onto the wreath’s base. This is done under the instruction of the official wreath-weaver in the event reserved for it specifically. The official wreath-weaver and their assistants will make the laurel wreaths for those promovendi who are participating alone.
A companion of a Doctor promovendus. Despite their name, they do not have to sharpen swords (except for the companion of the Ultimus Doctor)
The faculty will also be conferring honorary doctorates in the Conferment Ceremony. An honorary doctorate may be awarded to anyone that the faculty deems to have deserved the honour, regardless of their prior educational background.
Jubilee Masters and Doctors
The rank of Jubilee Master or Doctor will be conferred on the Masters and Doctors who took part in the Conferment Ceremony 50 years ago.
Typically, a part of the programme of The Conferment Dinner is the poem that has been made for the Conferment Ceremony. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the Conferment Ceremony has had both Finnish and Swedish poems. The one who writes the poem is called the Conferment Poet. However, this year the Conferment Committee has decided not to order new poems and the poems that will be heard at the Conferment Dinner are old poems from the previous ceremonies.