11. July 2023

Universitätsfest Breaks All Records Universitätsfest Breaks All Records

4,000 guests celebrate nearly 1,700 graduations on the Hofgartenwiese

This year’s Universitätsfest at the University of Bonn was a truly record-breaking event: never before had the University of Excellence bid a fond farewell to so many graduates, with just shy of 1,700 participants signing up for the celebrations. They were joined on the Hofgartenwiese by some 4,000 guests to enjoy a lively party accompanied by glorious sunshine and temperatures to match.

Unifest 2023
Unifest 2023 © Photo: Volker Lannert/Uni Bonn
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Every year since 2005 (with only one break in 2020 due to the pandemic), the University of Bonn has held a party—the Universitätsfest—to say goodbye to its graduates. Right from the start, what made the University’s event unique was the fact that all the graduates wear black gowns and the striking square caps and that the members of the Rectorate and heads of the faculties also don their traditional colored robes. The gowns worn by the deans are in exactly the same faculty colors as can be found on the sashes of the graduates’ gowns and on the tassels of their caps. For instance, graduates from the Faculty of Agriculture can be recognized by their flashes of deep green, while their counterparts from the Faculty of Catholic Theology sport “pink blending into blue” (although pink is also the Faculty of Protestant Theology’s color, here it is “blending into black”).

Celebrating and forgetting their worries

To kick off the event, Rector Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Michael Hoch had a suggestion for the assembled graduates: “Today, we want to forget all our worries for once and just celebrate.” Celebrate the fact that all the effort that has gone into studying has finally paid off and that the long-awaited degree is now in the bag. “You should be proud of yourselves,” the Rector said. “You have obtained a degree from one of the best universities in Germany, in Europe and in the world!” And this is something that one is permitted, nay expected to celebrate—above all surrounded by one’s family, friends and fellow students. Bachelor’s and master’s graduates from over 70 countries were in attendance this year, another record.

The mercury also climbed to record levels this time around, something that Rector Hoch referenced in his welcome address: “My first Universitätsfest as Rector was back in 2015. I remember it well: we had that high-pressure system known as ‘Bigi’, and it was 35 degrees Celsius in the shade but felt more like 50 with our gowns on. Today, it’s the turn of another high-pressure system, ‘Evi’ this time, and it’s 51 degrees under these gowns! You need to drink a lot of water in this weather,” Rector Hoch reminded the crowd. His advice may well have applied to himself more than anyone else because, despite the intense heat, the Rector could not resist making himself available for regular selfies with proud graduates. The sun may have been blazing down relentlessly on the traditional red velvet robe with its golden embroidery, but the joy in people’s faces meant that this was soon forgotten. And the long line of photo-seekers was not getting any shorter either. One of the many who wanted their picture taken with the head of the University was Hannes Öing, a medicine graduate now working as a radiologist in Schleswig-Holstein. He had moved from Lower Saxony to study in Bonn and was now returning to celebrate his results together with his parents—a kind of “homecoming,” in his words, as events like these are called in the US. Öing was delighted to see so many of his former fellow students again.

Partying in the open air

Among the guests was Prof. Dr. Max Baur, who devised and instigated the Universitätsfest in 2005 in his role as Vice Rector for Research. He was happy that the idea he had had back then had endured and praised the positive mood among the participants on the Hofgartenwiese. The format for the Universitätsfest has evolved slightly over the years. 2021 was the year of the “Graduation Walk” and the first time no marquee had been set up, with outdoor celebrations very much the order of the day due to the coronavirus restrictions, of course. It was retained in 2022 but supplemented with the program on the main stage that had proven so successful in previous years. This was interrupted to make way for the certificate presentation ceremony, the part of the program that marks the end of the graduates’ study journey: each faculty had a tent in which their deans and vice deans congratulated their students on their success and handed them their highly decorative presentation certificate written in Latin.

Some faculties’ ceremonies took some time, despite the dean’s offices working in tandem. As graduates from the Faculty of Arts, which was particularly well represented on the occasion, Jennifer Wasem and Vanessa Jodlauk were grateful for the free water on offer. There was even sunscreen—”for topping up.”

Cotton candy: a “carrot” for potential start-up entrepreneurs

Sun protection was definitely a must during the celebrations. Over 30 stands were available for graduates to pop by, ranging from the gown collection station and a photo booth through to a flower stall. They also had the opportunity to be interviewed by the radio station bonnFM, immortalize themselves on the “Wall of Fame” or sign up to the Alumni Network and/or the Universitätsgesellschaft there and then. The enaCom Transfer Center had come up with a good incentive to help promote its start-up consulting service: the graduates were happy to wait that little bit longer in line if there was the promise of cotton candy in University colors at the end of it. They were also able to pass the time by reading up on what the center has to offer. “We continue to provide our advice to anyone interested in starting a business even if they’ve already graduated from the University,” said Greta Mittweg-Grapentin, an innovation scout at enaCom. Admittedly, the stall staffed by the University’s Career Service, which was making its Universitätsfest debut, had not gone down the cotton candy route. What it did have, though, was a career-themed wheel of fortune and heaps of support for career entry and advancement, as consultant Dr. Anke Bohne emphasized.

As well as some handy health tips, University Sports also offered some more tangible activities: trainer Nikita Jarocky had brought along a skip full of outdoor fitness and functional training equipment and, despite the heat, managed to convince a steady stream of passersby to try out his barbells, kettlebells and pull-up bars. “We want to motivate people to get more exercise!” Judith Werkhausen said. After all, alumni are also entitled to use University Sports’ facilities and services.

The extra-special atmosphere on the lawn was also down in no small part to a host of music groups, including the University’s Jazz Choir and International Choir, its cello ensemble and the band “Where we first met,” a combo made up of doctoral students from the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. “In some ways, it’s a ‘band of pharmacists’: the bassist is my doctoral student,” said Prof. Dr. Finn Hansen with a hint of pride that could only come from a doctoral supervisor. A short while later, Hansen himself would be needed on stage in the Hofgarten where his student was currently giving it his all. This is because he was one of this year’s winners of a teaching prize, who would be honored on the main stage for their outstanding teaching performance at the University. Prof. Dr. Klaus Sandmann, Vice Rector for Teaching, Learning and University Development, thanked Hansen and his fellow recipients personally for their exemplary hard work and dedication.

“We kept on going”

Laura Meredig from the Faculty of Arts gave some idea of how hard it had been at times to learn well and to teach over the past few semesters. She had taken on the honorable duty of giving a speech on behalf of all graduates this year, in which she evoked the unique circumstances in which many of those present had managed to complete their degrees. “I was really looking forward to studying in a castle, just like Harry Potter,” she said, but the pandemic put paid to all of that, at least initially. “I did my degree in a room just 12 meters square, and any group work we did happened on walks rather than in the library.” Students had learned to be resilient, she said. “Despite it all, we kept on going! That’s something we can be proud of. We’ve definitely earned the right to celebrate.” Her words must have struck a chord, because they were met with a big round of applause from the crowd decked out in black gowns.

Mayor of Bonn Katja Dörner offered her own words of congratulation on behalf of the city and called on the cohort of graduates to be inquisitive: “Be inquisitive about what’s coming next after your studies! There’s still a lot for you to discover in Bonn.” She hoped that many of them would stay in the city or the region to help tackle current challenges together. There were a lot of interesting jobs available in Bonn and the surrounding area to do just that, she added. Dörner thanked the University for the close working relationship that they enjoyed, for how welcoming it was to international guests and for its excellent research and teaching.

The Universitätsfest culminated in a fitting manner with the traditional “tossing of hats.” It even needed just one take, thanks not least to the precise instructions given by the pair of presenters from bonnFM, Carlotta Grünjes and Tristan Pena Hoffmann, who warned the crowd in two languages of head coverings flying around uncontrollably. This was probably one of the reasons why the 11-strong team from Malteser Hilfsdienst were fortunately not called on to bandage any head wounds. Nevertheless, they still helped over 20 people, many of whom had been affected by the heat.

Despite the high temperatures, the graduates were only too happy to have the Bonn-based brass band Druckluft warm them up even further with their rousing rhythms to close out the Universitätsfest as they danced, jumped and partied exuberantly in front of the stage. A highly successful event concluded just as smoothly as it had gone all day. Even the weather played ball right until the very end, when a solitary thundercloud floated past the Hofgarten to the north…

A huge thank-you goes to Martina Krechel’s event team, which organized the Universitätsfest under the overall guidance of Lena Hufschmidt, as well as to the crew from Section 4.1—Infrastructure and Facility Services and to all those who helped make 2023’s event such an unforgettable experience for everyone involved.

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