Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sewanee and Hogwarts

Donning a black robe for the annual graduation exercise at St. Thomas always makes me feel as if I have fallen down the rabbit hole, traveled through some cheesy sci-fi channel time space tunnel, and arrived at either Sewanee in the midst of a thick fog as I make my way to class or Hogwarts as adolescent wizards shuffle through gothic halls to their next class and next opportunity to test their magical mettle. There is something indescribably special about that midnight black raiment that conjures up a charming and unforgettable mystique.

It’s sad that we only pull out these medieval throwbacks once or twice a year because they really add a sense of wonder and dignity to every occasion. Sewanee had it right to follow the Oxonian tradition of having teachers instruct in the garb and students of distinction wear them to class. It put us all in the right frame of mind to be receptive to the liberal arts. I think Rowling must have had that same childlike love for the black robes and what they represent when she wove her memorable series.

I am no historian, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the graduation gown finds its origin in clerical attire. After all, clerk and cleric were sometimes interchangeable in medieval times. We make a distinction now, but universities were initially established to train future clergyman. The black vestments may have been a kind of sartorial reminder of the holy purpose of receiving a universal education which comes from the source of the universe: God.

I love being a man in black, even if it is just once or twice a year for a couple of hours at a time!

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