Matriculation mayhem: How Cambridge Colleges handled matriculation during COVID

Did you get a proper matriculation dinner, a cold salad, or break free of tradition and head to Maccies?

Alongside graduation (rip Class of 2020), matriculation is one of the more iconic and fancier ceremonies you take part in during your time at Cambridge. And although matriculation celebrations this year had not officially been cancelled, at many colleges much of the ceremony had to be modified, reduced or even gotten rid of altogether to make matriculation COVID-safe.

Officially joining Cambridge University usually entails signing your name in an old book, shaking hands with the Master, and a group matriculation photograph as a cohort (the main value of which is to be able to look at it with your friends when you’re elderly third years and say “WOAH LOOK HOW YOUNG WE ALL LOOK HERE”) – all in your college’s unique and fancy gown. Shaking hands and being in a group larger than six (and even the cohort at Corpus is larger than that) is no longer legal in the pandemic era, so how did colleges maintain the ceremony of matriculation whilst keeping everyone safe?

The Tab Cambridge spoke to freshers across the University about their matriculation experience (and discovered that colleges handled things very differently):

Downing: ‘Matriculation pictures were by drone’

Downing College were among the success stories of Freshers’ Week and matriculation, with all freshers that The Tab spoke to being very happy with their socially distanced experience. The Matriculation Dinner took the form of a socially distanced outdoor picnic in households, and Matriculation photographs were taken by a drone, all whilst standing in white circles painted to show the sanctioned 2m distance, which one fresher, Alice, told The Tab was “slightly odd, but we were just grateful that it was happening in person.”

Churchill: ‘We all sat on these strange picnic tables and ate salad in our household groups’

Churchill was not quite so fortunate on the weather front, and therefore the College’s plans for an outdoor matriculation picnic could not go ahead as planned. The solution? According to one fresher, “we all sat on these strange picnic tables and ate salad in our household groups” instead, adding, “it was a bit grim eating a picnic indoors while it rained outside.”

Making use of all the modern technology, the matriculating cohort of Churchill also watched the Master’s speech on their phones. The fresher summed it up: “Overall it was very strange.”

King’s: ‘We signed a form and that was it’

King’s College did not conduct a matriculating ceremony for their fresher cohort this year, which one student described as “upsetting” especially as “as most colleges matriculated properly and even took photos outside King’s”.  The College did, however, hold matriculation drinks in a marquee, during which students sat in their households. King’s is not the only Cambridge college to not hold a matriculation ceremony last week, with St John’s College also only allowing freshers to matriculate via an online form.

Peterhouse: ‘We didn’t do a group photo… they’re just going to photoshop all the individual photos together’

Peterhouse freshers had also technically all matriculated before their arrival at Cambridge (via another online form) but were also fortunate enough to be given a ceremony at the start of term. Students filed into a marquee in their gowns, hand sanitised, and then taken into the hall in small groups to sign the matriculation book, read the oath and briefly speak to the Master.

Individual photos were taken, but a student told The Tab that, rather creatively, Peterhouse were also organising a group photo for the 2020 cohort using the miracle of Photoshop. A first-year English student told The Tab: “When we had the professional photos done we had a head and shoulders type one and then another where we were put in a specific position for photoshopping into the group photo.”

Unfortunately there was no matriculation dinner for the new students, however the College has said that there may be one later on in the term. Some Peterhouse freshers decided to take it upon themselves to source a fitting celebratory meal, with one fresher telling The Tab that a large group just went to McDonald’s instead.

“At first we just went into town for pictures but in the end ended up at McDonald’s. Our college is only small and at the time no one really had a ‘group’ of friends as we were all still getting to know each other so I think most people came.”

Mass organised events like matriculation, which would be routine in every other year, were never going to be straightforward. Whilst it is clear that some colleges found more effective solutions to the difficulties posed by COVID, matriculation is only one small part of the madness of a first year at Cambridge, so if you feel like you missed out there will be so much more to come. We can at least be glad of one thing, at least no matriculation was conducted by Zoom.

King’s College has been contacted for comment.

Feature image credit: Louis Brettkelly