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Oyler: Capping off a chapter at ceremony for Pitt civil engineering grads

| Sunday, May 13, 2018, 7:46 p.m.

Commencement at a large university tends to be highly impersonal because so many students are involved. This year the Civil Engineering Department at Pitt decided to have a separate, additional ceremony in which each student is recognized individually.

We were advised that our graduating seniors this term had requested that our faculty members participate in full academic regalia — an idea I enthusiastically endorsed.

I was certain I still had the gown and hood I wore when I was awarded my doctorate at Carnegie Mellon in 1972. Sure enough, I found them in the back of my closet in the original plastic bag that housed them when they came back from the cleaners 46 years ago. I was pleased that the fancy hood with its deep blue lapels and Tartan plaid lining and the gown appeared to be in good shape.

All that was missing was the mortarboard; it had to be among all of the trash in my closet. This precipitated a massive cleaning operation which uncovered all manner of surprising things, but no mortarboard.

Not to worry, I could purchase a new one at the University Store. Once inside it was not obvious how one goes about ordering regalia. Eventually someone put me in touch with a woman who understands such things.

Turns out, faculty aren't permitted to wear mortarboards; they have their own unique headgear.

“We can order it for you, but we can't guarantee it will arrive in time for this term's commencement,” I was told.

Frustrated, I resorted to 21st century technology and accessed Amazon. A week later, I took a selfie of myself in a dark blue tam and circulated it to my colleagues.

Our department graduation ceremony was held in the ballroom in the Student Union. It was a real treat to see all of my colleagues in their formal attire. In the past 46 years, academic regalia fashions have evolved dramatically. I am comfortable with my somber but elegant black gown, but it almost is out of place these days compared with the colorful robes that are prevalent today.

I was delighted with the ceremony; it was well-attended by students and faculty, plus a large turnout of friends and family. It began with a formal procession of all the elegantly robed faculty, followed by the equally elegant students. Chairman Radisav Vidic welcomed the students and guests. Then Tony Iannichione and senior Pete Eyre each gave excellent, relevant talks. After that each of the 42 students graduating this semester was individually introduced and formally congratulated by the chairman.

The recessional seemed almost regal to me; it was followed by a reception in the lounge that once was the Schenley Hotel side porch, with its marvelous views of the Cathedral of Learning across Bigelow Boulevard. The reception provided the faculty with the opportunity to meet the families of these wonderful students who are entering into a new phase of their lives.

If, as I suspect, they are representatives of civil engineering students throughout our country, our future is in good hands.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or Read more from him at

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