Graduation ceremonies are important landmarks for graduates, families and universities.
But seeing 125 youngsters trooping across a stage to shake hands and receive their degrees can hardly be said to be the most gripping of theatrical events, especially when there's only one of the 125 that you actually know and care about.
I’ve just been to such an event, at which it quickly became apparent that we were in for a long wait (over half an hour, as it turned out) before our candidate got anywhere near the stage. Nor were we alone, because there were about 250 other people in the audience in exactly the same position as us.
All of which raises the interesting question of how you stay awake, as one unfamiliar name after another is read out, and as one unfamiliar smiling face after another appears on stage. For me, the answer is easy, because occasionally there's an advantage in having a technical interest in how such ceremonies work,
And I have to say that this particular one worked like clockwork, and did so in two intriguing respects that probably weren’t even noticed by anyone else in the audience.
The first was the supreme efficiency with which the ‘clap on the name’ technique ensured that every candidate was applauded as they walked into the limelight, with the applause coming in on cue a fraction of a second after each name was read out.
The second piece of clockwork was that the ovation in every single case lasted for exactly 7 seconds. No one told the audience to time their clapping to fit within the standard 7-9 second span found in the vast majority of bursts of applause, but the fact is that they did - with mechanical precision.
And the fact that they did so meant that, in every case, it sounded about right – less than 7 seconds wouldn’t have sounded complimentary enough; more than 9 seconds would have sounded more enthusiastic than necessary.
The only reason I’m able to report this extraordinary 100% regularity is that I sat there timing them all, which not only kept me wide awake, but also enabled me to test a hypothesis or two.
At the start, for example, I wondered whether there might be a difference between the amount of applause awarded to men and women, younger and older graduates, members of different ethnic groups, etc. But there was no hint of any such difference, as all of them got exactly the same 7 second ration.
Such negative results can sometimes be disappointing, but not if the process of coming up with them keeps you awake and attentive from the beginning to the end of what might otherwise have been a rather tedious experience (apart from our 30 second reason for being there).
There were, however, two exceptions that did get an outstanding 15 seconds of applause (outstanding because it’s twice as long as normal). One was for the collected assembly of graduates themselves, and the other was for their teachers – which is also exactly as it should be.
(Further details about the 'clap on the name' technique and the 7-9 second standard burst of applause can, of course, be found in my books).