‘It’s all about empowerment’

Mrs. Beadle

Meryem ​Riad, the only woman out of nine UG beadles, recently oversaw her first PhD ceremony. ‘Every woman in the auditorium gave me a hug.’
8 December om 9:05 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 24 October 2022
om 10:48 uur.
December 8 at 9:05 AM.
Last modified on October 24, 2022
at 10:48 AM.
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Door Yelena Kilina

8 December om 9:05 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 24 October 2022
om 10:48 uur.
Avatar photo

By Yelena Kilina

December 8 at 9:05 AM.
Last modified on October 24, 2022
at 10:48 AM.
Avatar photo

Yelena Kilina

International editor Volledig bio International editor Full bio

There was one thing that Meryem ​Riad’s colleagues at the Campus Fryslân asked her to do before her first performance as a beadle. ‘Don’t tie your hair up: let your hair down, so everybody knows we have a female beadle.’ 

She may not be the very first woman to take on the job in the university’s history, but she is the first one in several years.

So there she was on November 18, dressed in a long black robe and holding a silver sceptre in hand, her curls loose under a square velvet cap. ‘It is all about empowerment’, she says with a smile.


When Riad applied for a front desk position at the newly opened Campus Fryslân in 2019, she certainly could not have imagined that two years later she would be donning a traditional robe.

When she started out, her main task was receiving visitors of the Beurs building. ‘I see everybody who comes in and I am the person that you go to when you have a question, so I know everyone here.’

But when it was time for the first promotion ceremony in Leeuwarden – ‘a chemistry student’ – she met then beadle Bert Kamstra. They clicked right away. 

Riad was curious about the tradition, and Kamstra was happy to tell her the stories about how he experienced it. ‘It just slipped into our conversations: he was my colleague, we had a connection and he told me everything along the way’, she recalls warmly. 

You’re not walking fast, you’re not walking slowly, you’re walking very confidently

So when Kamstra was about to retire after thirty-nine years of service, he had no doubts about whom to pass the silver sceptre on to. ‘He recommended me because of my job experience at the front desk and the connection I have with people here. He chose me and everybody was okay with it’, she says, laughing. 


Even though it turned out that Kamstra had been preparing Riad to take over, she still needed much training. ‘Bert not only showed me how to pronounce Hora finita, but also how to feel at that moment.’

Bert Kamstra helps Riad putting on her cap

Fortunately, taking a Latin language course is not necessary for beadles. ‘But I am always eager to learn’, says Riad, giggling. 

It also matters how a beadle walks into the room and holds the sceptre. ‘You’re not walking fast. You’re not walking slowly, but you’re walking very confidently. You keep your head up, your body straight, and lead everyone gracefully.’ 


The PhD defense ceremony is a ritual with many traditions going back to 1614, when the UG was founded. The sceptre itself dates back to 1615 and is very fragile. ‘It is crowned with the figure of Minerva who holds a very tiny spear, so you need to be very careful to not break it.’

I was very scared that I would fail him. What if I don’t follow the protocol right?

But Riad loves the historical aspect of her attire and the location where promotion ceremonies take place, the Stadhuis in Leeuwarden. With its red carpets, wooden panels and portraits – ‘of both kings and queens, so you can see that there are powerful women on the wall’ – it helps her to feel the connection with the traditions. 

‘Bert told me that once I’ve found the connection, the rest will come. It feels very special to be a part of it.’


But there is more to being a beadle than solemnly proclaiming ‘Hora finita’ after the forty-five minutes of a PhD defence. 

Riad arrives two hours before the defence to check the location. She sees the candidate, paranymphs and professors in their rooms. She instructs them on the ceremony protocol and just makes sure that everyone is comfortable.

‘I think it’s very important that if you do this job you stay connected with the person you guide. That you know your PhD and that you know something about their research.’


Not a problem for Riad. She knows everyone at Campus Fryslân. In fact, she knew the first PhD candidate whose ceremony she directed, Jesse van Amelsvoort, long before his promotion.

‘I saw him grow and do his research.’ He would even tell Riad about his dissertation on contemporary minority literature from time to time. ‘It was a friendship.’

Naturally, she texted him the night before the promotion: ‘Have a good night’s rest.’ 

He replied right away: ‘Thank you very much mrs. Beadle.’ 


She still was nervous as she entered the Stadhuis on November 18. Dressed in a toga and with her hair down, she recalled following Kamstra’s footsteps at a couple of promotions before. On the day itself, though, it felt different.

‘I knew Jesse, so I was very scared that I would fail him. What if I didn’t follow the protocol right?’

But before she knew it, she was already taking the Committee to the auditorium – with all eyes being on her. That was the most difficult moment, she says. ‘Oh my god’, she thought. ‘Everybody’s looking at me right now and it’s supposed to be Jesse’s moment.’


She calmed down and walked at a relaxed pace. Minerva’s spear remained intact. And, most importantly, Van Amelsvoort received his doctorate degree in a good order. Everything went well. ‘It went so fast: Hora finita and it was done!’

Riad and Van Amelsvoort both congratulated each other on the successful promotion ceremony. ‘You’ve done it!’

The whole of Morocco knows about me now

She got a lot of good responses, too. Especially from female university professors and PhDs. ‘Everybody who was a woman gave me a hug because I was, yeah, a female beadle and that’s not something that you see very often.’

A privilege

Riad’s family wasn’t present at the ceremony, but was very proud of her becoming a beadle, too. Her father, who is originally from Morocco, was filled with so much joy, so sent her photo to every family member in Morocco. ‘The whole of Morocco knows about me now’, says Riad, laughing. 

There are not too many PhD candidates at the Campus Fryslân, so Riad won’t oversee her next promotion ceremony until February. And she is totally ready for that. ‘I will just follow the protocol and be myself, that’s the reason why I was chosen.’

But can she imagine performing the role of a beadle for thirty-nine years, just like her predecessor and teacher Kamstra? ‘I hope so’, she says. ‘It is a privilege.’