Just one student at each UWI campus will sign the matriculation register at the start of this academic year – at Mona campus in Jamaica, dressed in the traditional and now outdated red student gown introduced shortly after the university started in 1948; at the other three campuses, dressed mainly in white. The numbers have long made it impractical for all the students to sign, as the first 33 students did in 1948. Now, usually the new student with the highest entry qualification on each campus will sign for his or her peers.
Matriculation is a ceremony still held by universities in various parts of the world, especially the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. New undergraduates sign the register – in Latin, matricula – and become formally part of the university community.
When the UWI was still the University College of the West Indies (1948-1962) and a College of the University of London, the first Principal Dr Thomas Taylor carefully explained to new students the significance of the ceremony:
“It is a formal act because joining (an academic) society necessarily implies certain obligations. The person joining undertakes to obey the rules of a society and to behave in a manner that conforms to customs of the society. That is what you are doing this afternoon. You will sign your names on a sheet which is afterwards bound up into a volume, the matriculation register of a University College. Above your signature is the Academic Vow of the University College, and you are signing your names to that Vow…”
The current vow, which has changed little since the original was written, states:
“I solemnly promise that, as a member of the University of the West Indies, I will strive to follow the ideals of academic life, to love learning, to advance true knowledge, to show respect to the staff of the university and my fellow students, to lead a seemly life and set a worthy example of good behaviour wherever I may be.”