Graduation was held for all fifth-year students at my institute a few days ago.
At that school, bachelor degree programs are offered in nuclear physics, meteorology, radio chemistry and nuclear engineering.
A week ago I defended my senior class project and there only remained my having to wait for the ceremony in which my degree would be conferred on me after having spent five years at the university.
The event took place in the theater of the Ministry of Construction, which was large enough to accommodate all the students and guests.
Our graduation wasn’t very different from those at most universities on the island: The president of the university read a speech about the importance of the times in which we lived —with some people paying attention, and others not— and several teachers handed out the diplomas to the graduates.
Recognition was made of the best students in the fields of education, sports, research and activism within the FEU (Federation of University Students).
Graduation was an important moment for most of those who were there. For me, it was the end of one stage and the beginning of a more complex one.
Something notable in the ceremony was the presenting of certain diplomas of special distinction; these had gilded stamps on them.
These golden-stamped diplomas are given to those who have earned the “título de oro” (the golden degree). This honor is awarded to students whose grade point averages are above 4.75 (out of 5) and who also participated in a high percentage of activities organized by the FEU, the UJC (Young Communist League) and the PCC (Communist Party of Cuba).
For me, the granting of those special diplomas was the most unpleasant moment in the ceremony. There were faces of frustration, faces of sadness and others that radiated joy.
I couldn’t stop thinking of how this type of prize-giving inevitably promotes competitive behavior in the university.
During my studies, I felt that beyond learning how to participate in activities out of conscience or pleasure, students were pressured to win the golden diploma.
I believe that if we hope for better university education in our country —one in which people emerge free of the individualist and competitive spirit so characteristic of capitalism— the elimination of the golden degree would be a progressive step in that direction.