Beadle 'dress' no more
In 1979, Reinie Kesimaat was the first concierge to take up the job of beadle, a job as old as the university itself. He will retire from his concierge job in late December, and last week was meant to be his final performance as beadle.
The concierges were given the job of beadle to compensate for the night shift disappearing. That way, they would not have to take a pay cut.
Having to wear a toga was a laughing matter among some concierges, but others were resistant. They did not want to have to wait 45 minutes in the room during orations.
Currently, the eight beadles are responsible for over 500 PhD ceremonies in the Academy building.
His colleagues organised a surprise goodbye party for Kesimaat. Suddenly, it was he who was the centre of attention during an oration. He was especially moved by chemist’s Ben Feringa’s speech. ‘How often do you get a thank you from a Nobel Prize winner?’
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‘Hang on, I’ll just put on my “dress”.’ Kesimaat rushes to a small dressing room hidden between the auditorium and the senate room in the Academy building. He should not even be here. Last Tuesday, he said goodbye during his ‘final’ oration. He will retire from his concierge job in late December, and last week was originally meant to be his final performance as beadle. Yet he finds himself putting on the bands and donning the toga once more.
‘A colleague’s grandmother passed away, so this morning they asked me if I would do it just one more time. I’ll always help out a friend. But this is definitely the last time’, he says.
Back in 1979, Kesimaat – now a grey haired man with a modest smile – was the first concierge to be given the job of beadle. But this was not preceded by a grand ceremony as you might expect with a job that is as old as the university itself. It was mainly a practical solution to two problems.
‘When I started working here in 1974, night shifts were still a thing. They involved answering the phones and checking the buildings. But people weren’t quite performing the way they were supposed to on those shifts. One guy even got caught sleeping on the job. The shifts were exhausting, and back then there was no television to keep you awake, just a little radio. And the radio stations cut out at night, too’, Kesimaat says. ‘So then they hired a security firm to take over surveillance of the buildings and got a switchboard. The night shifts were scrapped.’
But scrapping the shifts meant that the concierges would lose quite a bit of pay. And they were not happy with that. ‘To compensate, they gave us the beadle jobs.‘ It also allowed the university to bid farewell to 87-year-old Mr. Hoogewerf, the last ‘permanent’ beadle, who wanted to step down.
But the transition did not go perfectly smoothly. Having to wear a toga caused much hilarity among the concierges, but some resisted as well, the UK wrote at the time (see picture). They discussed for hours about the necessity of the toga and whether the beadle was allowed to leave the auditorium during the 45-minute orations. Finally, they decided in favour of the ‘dress’. The beadle function became a definitive part of the concierge and janitor services. The new beadles were not allowed to leave the auditorium, but they were allowed to ‘sit in a more inconspicuous spot in the room’, according to the UK in 1979.
Having to wear a toga was a laughing matter among some concierges, but others were resistant, according to the UK in 1979. (Click here)
‘We did some practising between Christmas and New Year’s Eve’, Kesimaat says. ‘Working on our pronouncements, like ‘hora finita’ and ‘the college of deans’ which is now called ‘the college for promotions’. There isn’t much more to it.’ A typical Groningen understatement.
The eight beadles oversee 500 promotion ceremonies a year in the Academy building. Today, Kesimaat is running back and forth to ensure that the ceremony, whose sequence he knows like the back of his own hand, goes smoothly.
‘We start an hour beforehand. We open the faculty rooms for the professors, open up the cabinets and turn on the lights. Then we receive the PhD student and take them to the “sweat room”‘, the concierge says. ‘There, we reassure them: “Are you nervous? There’s no need to be. Your degree is finished, it just needs a few signatures.” And then we say: “Would you like a quick practice round in the auditorium?” They always do. So we take the PhD student and their paranymphs to the room. We close the doors and let them practise. They practise bowing, we have them sit at the table and make the paranymph bring them their book.‘
Next, the beadle quickly changes. Bands on, beret on, toga on and beadle staff in hand (‘A copy of the 1615 original’). Next, he walks the professors and PhD students back and forth between the auditorium and the faculty rooms. ‘Finally, I walk into the auditorium and say, “Hora finita!” Today a woman from Grootegast is receiving her degree, so as a joke I’ll be using a broad Groningen accent, “Horaa finitaaa”. She knows about it and thought it was amusing. You can crack a joke every once in a while, right?’ Kesimaat says, laughing.
The first time he walked into the auditorium in his tailor-made toga (‘no jacket, I figured that would be too hot’), the professors in the room looked at him strangely. ‘”What’s this? You’re 60 years younger [than your predecessor]!” They were accustomed to Hoogewerf and they were all older than I was. I think they had to get used to me more than I to them. But I think they liked it. At least it was something new’, the concierge says.
By now, Kesimaat knows the ceremony by heart. Not a lot can go wrong, he says. Even during the harsh winter of 1979, the PhD ceremonies continued. They went on during the many occupations in the early ‘80s, too. ‘As janitors, we had such a close bond with the students that they didn’t disturb the ceremonies. During that time, (music venue, ed.) Vera closed during the occupations because the bands were playing here at the Academy building.’
There was one time, however, when things did not go according to plan: one female PhD student refused to enter the auditorium. ‘”Are you coming?”, I asked her. “No”, she said. “Sure you are”, I said. “You want your degree, don’t you? We can’t just throw it away. I took her and when I returned 45 minutes later, she couldn’t stop talking about her research. She just got agoraphobic.’
The last time
And Tuesday, which was officially his ‘last’ oration, took an unexpected turn as well. His colleagues, sniggering in the back of the room, had secretly organised a goodbye party during Gerald Roelfe’s PhD ceremony, one of the RUG’s top researchers. This time, the room contained not just the orator’s family and professors, but also the Board of the University, the faculty board, Secretary-General of the Office of the University Stephan van Galen, and Roelfes’ co-worker and Nobel Prize winner, Ben Feringa.
‘You may stand, Mr. Kesimaat’, Van Galen suddenly said during his speech about the beadle’s merits. ‘Up until then, I had no clue’, says Kesimaat. ‘I thought, “Oh boy, this is it.” But I had my back turned to the rest of the room, so at least they couldn’t see the emotions on my face. ‘
Kesimaat tries to play it cool, but his eyes betray how much those speeches meant to him, especially Feringa’s unexpected remarks. ‘I would like to take a moment to appreciate our beadle. You have taken care of many of the more than 100 PhD ceremonies I have participated in. I would like to cordially thank you for that’, the chemist said. Kesimaat: ’That wasn’t planned. He made it up on the spot and told me. How often do you get a thank you from a Nobel Prize winner?’
He is quitting for good in late December. It was a good job, says Kesimaat. ‘People show up for a party, and they’re almost never cranky. Nervous, sure, but not cranky.‘ He is not sad to be leaving, though. ‘I’ve been working since I was 17, so that is quite a while. I haven’t been unemployed for a single day.’
So what is next? What will his retirement look like? Kesimaat does not know yet. ‘That depends on what my wife is earning. She still has 12 years to go’, he jokes. ‘But I don’t know yet. I’m just going to do whatever I want. My son-in-law and his father own a garage, maybe I’ll help out there, or maybe I’ll help people in the neighbourhood fix up their houses. It’ll all work itself out.’