Graduation Day at the Sorbonne

A diploma! Well, a fake one, but it looks good!

Defending a thesis in Paris is anticlimactic at best. When I became a full-fledged doctor in December, I celebrated with sparkling wine and cupcakes (courtesy of my pal Cat), but it lacked the pomp of my university graduation from NYU.

Granted, those ceremonies took place at Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium – I couldn’t expect the same thing from the Sorbonne. But not even a cap or gown? Come on now.

This year, however, for the first time, several schools within the Université Sorbonne Paris Cité system got together to celebrate Paris’s newest doctors. (I was channeling some major Love Actually: “And it’s the first time all the local schools have joined together, even Saint Basil’s.”) The result was a very, very good showing for the Sorbonne. I was extremely proud to be a part of it, and I consider it a worthy send-off after five years.

I wish I had more classes here....

So no cap or gowns, fine, but the school had scarves designed for us, specially created just for this group of doctors. It was pretty classy, in all honesty, and the designer told me later that she was so proud to see us all wearing them during the ceremony. With our makeshift ceremonial garb wrapped around our necks, we were ready to celebrate.

There were probably about 100 or so doctors who got together in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne to celebrate. Here, finally, I was experiencing the Sorbonne of my dreams, surrounded by 19th century splendor. The room was ornate, with sculptures featuring the likes of Robert de Sorbon, Descartes, and Pascal, heroes of French academia. 

One happy doctor....
We all stood for the opening procession. There were the usual suspects – professors clad in funny colored robes and the head of the school who gave a nice, detailed welcome. I paid attention to all of it. No, seriously, I did. Well, most of it…

The highlight of the ceremony came next, when they let 25 – yes, 25 – of the newly crowned doctors shared their thoughts on stage. Yours truly was among the mix. We even got to sit on the stage, so I was on my best behavior. 

I was nervous my speech would fall flat, but the Chinese student next to me warmed up with the crowd with some laughs. Leave it to the international students to liven things up, am I right? Once it was my turn, I landed my jokes, got the appropriate reaction, and received some healthy applause. It was a nice impression to leave on the school. 

Some of the other doctors were…well, let’s just say, they weren’t all creative public speakers. Still, it was a fantastic experience to be able to meet and hear other doctors from the hard sciences, arts, and cultural studies.


Once the nearly 3 hour ceremony ended – we were all meant to speak 2 minutes, but good luck getting a group of PhD students in France to be brief – it was party time. Within the majestic reception hall of the Sorbonne, we were treated to savory and sweet canapés and, of course, Champagne. It was the first time I felt classy at the Sorbonne. Too bad it only took five years, but better late than never.

After mingling with a few students that I was meeting for the first time – PhD students aren’t the most social – it was time to leave the Sorbonne for the last time. It was bittersweet, but stepping out of those doors was more exciting than anything else. It's time to jump into the next project, and I get to do it wearing my new scarf!. 

It’s been an amazing five years completing my masters and my PhD at the Sorbonne, and I am so grateful to have had this experience. Now, however, my academic career must continue, and no longer can I claim student status. 

But I can say I’m a doctor, and I guess that’s way cooler anyway.