'At the threshold of wisdom' is the motto of the University of York. Jenny and I were there for our daughter Ellie's graduation. Her degree is in mental health, and as the names of the graduands were read out, I pondered the Latin motto, an apt aspiration for anyone engaged in mental healthcare, indeed, for anyone engaged in anything at all. I should know where this tag comes from; but whatever its source, I like its pleasing modesty, as if to say: all the knowledge, all the learning, all the skill in the world can only bring us to the threshold of wisdom and invite us to discover how to cross it for ourselves and become truly wise.
Wisdom goes hand in hand with self-knowledge and awareness. The young people like Ellie who today took another step in their vocation to care for those with mental health needs were committing themselves to journey the path of wisdom and to beginning the all-important task of accompaniment - walking alongside others and helping them not only to find health but also wisdom. Being the midwife of others' healing is a very priestlike task, which is perhaps why the ceremony felt like an ordination without religion. There was organ music and a procession, a homily from Greg Dyke about being true to yourself, and after each handshake the handing over of an instrument (like the delivery of the Bible at ordination), in this case the degree certificate and a dossier about alumni relations. Degree ceremonies evolved out of ordinations (because they conferred a licence to teach) and it is striking how much of the memory remains in the ritual shape of the event.
I go to all the Durham congregation ceremonies in the Cathedral, and because clergy are professionally interested in the practice of ceremony and ritual it was valuable today to observe how another university does it. York is less formal than Durham, no doubt because the environment is so different, but it was pleasing that both the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor were taking part. This is always the case at Durham too, a big contrast to the university at which my son graduated, where neither was present, and half the chairs on the platform were empty. A nice personal touch for me was that one of the professors presenting candidates turned out to be a former school friend, last seen 40 years ago. We have since exchanged emails.