The conferment traditions for the faculties of philosophy, law and theology are similar: a solemn conferment ceremony, a procession to the cathedral, a service, dinner and an excursion. But there are differences too.

The tradition of holding conferment ceremonies was initiated in the Middle Ages when universities wished to add formality and grandeur to the conferment of academic titles. Today it is an event spanning several days, with Master’s and doctoral degree holders celebrating their academic achievements. The faculty in question will grant the participants, or conferees, the right to bear the markers of their academic rank: the Master’s wreath and ring or the doctoral hat and sword.

The conferment traditions for the faculties of philosophy, law and theology are similar: a solemn conferment ceremony, a procession to the cathedral, a service, dinner and an excursion – along with the hats, speeches and official dress code. But there are differences, says Juha Hurme, conferment specialist and coordinator.

 “The Faculty of Philosophy is the only faculty to hold conferment ceremonies for Master’s graduates. There is also a difference in the appearance of the doctoral hats: for the Faculty of Law, they are red, for the Faculty of Theology, purple, and for the Faculty of Philosophy, black. In addition, theologians do not receive a sword.

the Faculty of Philosophy is the grandest

While the University of Helsinki no longer formally has a Faculty of Philosophy, its conferment ceremony lives on. The ceremony is open to graduates from the faculties of arts, science, biological and environmental sciences, behavioural sciences and pharmacy.

The Faculty of Philosophy has the longest and richest tradition of conferment ceremonies. The proceedings begin on Flower Day, 13 May, with the appointment of the official garland-weaver. This year, the honour fell on Jemina Kauristie, daughter of Academy Professor Timo Vesala. The appointment of the official garland-weaver is a uniquely Finnish tradition. The appointment is an expression of respect from the student body towards the parent of the garland-weaver.

Official garland-weavers, symbols of youth and the future, have been appointed since the 19th century. Traditionally, the partners and fiancées of the conferees help with the garland-weaving. The introduction of women brought elements of fun and romantic tension into the conferment proceedings, with serenades and balls. In their time, the conferment celebrations also served as a setting where young people could find potential husbands and wives. These days, the garland-weaver no longer has to be a fair maiden. In fact, 2010 marked the first year when the title of the official garland-weaver was granted to a young man in the conferment ceremony of the Faculty of Philosophy – it was Ilmo Korhonen, the son of Ulla-Maija Forsberg, who was vice-rector at the time.

At the end of the academic procession, speeches are made to the sun rising above Helsinki.

The conferment celebrations of the Faculty of Philosophy culminate in a ball on Saturday, complete with formal academic dances. After the ball, the participants walk through the city in a nocturnal procession. At the end of the academic procession, speeches are made to the sun rising above Helsinki.

Honours and jubilations

The honorary doctors are another side to the conferment proceedings. The title of honorary doctor, doctor honoris causa, is the highest accolade granted by the University, intended to honour a person’s contributions and life’s work in national and international research. This spring’s honorary doctors range from scientists to political and social decision-makers. For example, the Faculty of Law granted the title to Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland.

The title of jubilee Master or doctor may be granted for degree holders whose degrees were conferred 50 years ago. This means that this year, the University will confer jubilee titles to the conferees of 1967. The conferment ceremony is a mix of tradition and youth, solemnity and revelry. It is a celebration for the whole University community, from the student marshals to the veterans of the academic world and University leadership.

Traditional, European, unique

According to Juha Hurme, the conferment ceremonies align the University of Helsinki with the historical continuum consisting of the mediaeval traditions of European universities.

 “While the academic traditions have periodically fallen out of favour, they tend to return sooner or later. Traditions must be alive and move with the times.”

The conferment ceremonies align the University of Helsinki with the historical continuum consisting of the mediaeval traditions of European universities.

Commissioning works of art to commemorate the conferment has been a tradition with the Faculty of Philosophy ever since the first conferment ceremony in 1643. This year the ceremony featured both a poem written by author, poet and researcher Matti Kangaskoski as well as a conferment poem from 1757, both performed by singer Emma Salokoski. Commemorative art as well as a tote bag and poster design have been commissioned from comic artist and illustrator Mika Lietzén. The nondenominational event established as an alternative to the conferment service has since also been incorporated into the traditions surrounding the opening of the new academic year. This means that the conferment ceremony is always a reflection of its time, while simultaneously respecting centuries-old traditions.

 “The ongoing tradition of the Master’s conferment is such a unique phenomenon in Europe that it has been included in the national inventory for our living heritage,” Hurme adds.