Sans Laude

| Niels ter Meer

There can be so much laudable about one’s achievements at university, yet we formally praise raw academic luck. Student columnist Niels ter Meer (23) saw what the VU did and wants it here too.


If all goes well, I’ll be a Bachelor of Science shortly. That means it’s time to get my diploma at some point; I heard they hold diploma ceremonies for us lowly bachelor students too. What I also heard is that they put those who graduate ‘cum laude’ in the spotlight — and sometimes throw money at them.

But cum laude? That sounds like something from ancient history, right? But no; for the uninitiated, when it comes to bachelor and master degrees is a pretentious term people use to describe individuals who graduate with high average grades — which is also put on their diplomas. It’s Latin, and it means ‘with praise’. Prima facie to use some other pretentious bit of Latin — that sounds reasonable, right? After all, accruing such a set of grades, isn’t that worthy or praise?

Again, no. Intelligence — arguably needed to graduate with high grades — is a consequence of the interplay between your environment, your culture, and your genes; it’s not of your own hard work and merit per se (hey, more latin!) After all, grading is a scam and motivation is a myth. Even with equal opportunity, one might receive the praise, and another might not. It mostly depends on your personality matrix, if you will.

This might even be best exemplified by the requirements of the praise itself; they tend to creep up the longer you take to graduate. The argument here is that the longer you take, the more opportunity you have to hedge your grades and graduate with praise. But say, through no fault of, you get hit by a bus, and take a year recovering. Since cum laude has — in that case a literal — bus factor of one, you can probably waive your formal praise goodbye. You don’t even need a bus; it’s not unimaginable, with the current student well-being problems, that some with exemplary grades to fall into a major depression, and because of that fails to pass that bar. Persevering despite these; that’s laudable.

You’d think, in Twente, with our Education Model, we would have stopped ages ago. After all, with the endless oceans of group work we have to trudge through, that would make you dependent on your tired and demotivated colleagues. While it would be laudable if you managed to get them in gear, also a no here: project grades are excluded from consideration. So much for TOM.

There are a lot of good reasons to make this past tense. Currently, it’s just a way to unfairly sneak coincidental high grades past the fence of the diploma — supposed to be an equal opportunity starting point — and into people’s CVs. The VU will stop giving them to doctors (the medical kind, that is); hoping that encourages learning over achievement, and that it’ll reduce the aspiring doctors’ stress — I hope the UT will follow her partner in this. But even if none of those claims materialize, there is something wrong with cum laude: in a building full of smart people, it’s, paradoxically, just transparently dumb. And that is why I’d rather see it go.

There’s nothing laudable about luck. So I, for one, will be skipping my graduation ceremony. I have better things to do than look at spotlights.

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