Early this morning, walking to my classes, i have met a young man looking like this:
At first, i thought about a kind of costume. But then, i saw another young man. And another few minutes later. And a fourth one. Hey, that is something like a robe. And a white rose, well, not a rose, a carnation. And they have a strange hat, the "birrete" that we use in Spain in our graduation ceremonies. My goodness! Do they really use that outfit?!
Yes, they do. That indicates that they are in their final examinations process. The suit is known as subfusc, from latin. Men must wear a funny white bow tie, shirt, black suit and black shoes under an academic gown. Women use a black tie with the gown and either a black skirt or trousers. And there is the carnation, that reflects when are they in the process. It is white when they do the first exam, pink thereafter and red for the final exam.
Strange, isn't it? It against any modernity. It's so old fashioned! But the students voted overwhelmingly in favour of compulsory academic dress in examinations, with 75.8% supporting subfusc. Why could young people consider it was important to do something as stressful and decisive as your Oxford final exam disguised as a two century old academic?
Because traditions are important. Chesterton said tradition was "the democracy of the Dead". And he was right (as usual). These young men's ancestors built Oxford reputation. That is an immaterial treasure nowadays students are enjoying. They owe that respect to the ones who built Oxford and configured it. It's their tribute, the external sign that, "hey, old pals, we are here, we are listening, we will continue your path and we thank you all for what you did".