The Rite Of Labour Market

Playing With Graduation day Occasion

Primanto Nugroho

What is Truth ?
Pontius Pilate

In the late 1980’s when I was becoming a freshman in Universitas Gajah Mada, a university sited in the northern part of Jogja, one thing that immediately grabbed my attention was the view of the graduation day service. What stirred me was actually quite simple, that someone could actually stand being wrapped for hours in a black robe in a tropical country such as Indonesia. The heat must be excruciating. How could they endure such thing?

At that time, graduation services were still held in the central building which was also operated as UGM rectorate office. While the faculty which I attended to is one of the three faculties that filled the 2nd and 3rd floor of the main building sited at Bulaksumur area. From that position , many times I have witnessed various events, whether graduation services as well as doctorate promotions or visits made by goverenment officials from Jakarta. Every time I climbed the stairs that lead to the study hall and found a row of tables full of food and beverages, I understand right away that a service is being held inside the building installed by Soekarno on December 1959. Even though there are many of kind of services but the striking resemblance is they all have a certain atmosphere that is no different to what is commonly found in a wedding service. All this we can see from the food arrangements, noises coming from the speakers to the numerous vechiles cramming up the parking lot, all this mix up has created an atmosphere so boisterous that it resembles to what can be found in the Bringharjo Market just near the Kraton crossing to the north.

How can a wedding ceremony atmosphere and a market commotion can even be compared to a graduation day service? Isn’t a graduation ceremony took place inside a university environment which founded upon the search for verity or truth? Doesn’t the most important aspect of a graduation day service lie in the ambience of solemnity? For a quite some time that these questions filled my mind.
At present, many simplifies that in general the condition of a university is becoming the equivalent of a market. Like any simplification of course, statement , judgement and labelling as such has reduced every aspects of a plural condition. Added to the fact that tagging names or labbelling to a certain condition would not change the condition itself.* Therefore, an overview of the rite of labor institutionalization through graduation day service is one way to reconsider the subtile aspects sometime deeply hidden under the social streams, which have frequently determined most people’s path of life *.*
Apart from that,as a stage, actually the graduation podium has becoming a ritual with compelling dramatic elements of its own. On it, the seriousness that is required can be fulfilled. Meanwhile, the dramatic part will move anyone who see the background; the evolution taken by Gajah Mada University from being the rightful child of the revolution in 1945 with its poor physical condition until it transforms now into a giant that races into the competition rhythm of labor producing market. As a flow, it grabs people to believe their own self-imagination; after the graduation day lies a way of imagining that is so different to what they used to have as a student.***
After telling a story about the graduation podium in the next section, the ending part will describe how all kind of power are operating in constituting a different status of citizenship. Before, the graduation candidates are students categorized as maha (from mahasiswa tr.) and then after, they become citizens of the market with job seeker status inside the labor bourse. .


In 1995, one of the participant in an etnography workshop took a picture of Jogja which is also known as the city of education. The photograph reveals a picture of UGM graduation participants self portrait being lined up and displayed on the asphalt road for sale. Responding to the photo result one mentor in the workshop says:

Almost in every graduation day, people can see (and of course, buy) a display of the graduates’ pictures in the parking lot of UGM Main Building. Perhaps it would be interesting to study how even then these ‘intellectuals’ still need to be “preserved” after their relentless effort in studying in UGM. However, this preservation is not taken during years of their studies (because it was not interesting or special at all) but rather when they are in full make ups ( with a rented toga)ready for a ritual: a graduation service which is becoming more expensive each year.
(Made T.S. 1995,p. 76-77)

In 1995, one of the participant in an etnography workshop took a picture on the city of education of Jogja. The photograph reveals a picture of UGM graduation participants self portrait being lined up and displayed on the asphalt road for sale. Responding to the photo result one mentor in the workshop says:

Almost in every graduation day, people can see (and of course, buy) a display of the graduates’ pictures in the parking lot of UGM Main Building. Perhaps it would be interesting to study how even then these ‘intellectuals’ still need to be “preserved” after their relentless effort in studying in UGM. However, this preservation is not taken during years of their studies (because it was not interesting or special at all) but rather when they are in full make ups ( with a rented toga)ready for a ritual: a graduation service which is becoming more expensive each year.
(Made T.S. 1995,p. 76-77)

When the photo intrepretation being written in 1995, 17 years had passed since Indonesia universities were normalized through a policy of educational ministry which was led by led by Daoed Jusuf at that time. The policy ruled that all student organization inside the university becomes a non-student substructural party. It also imposed the widespread use of jargon for student as the man of analysis to exclude students from political practices while politics itself simply became an analysis object.
In the meantime, academically a curriculum with credit system is enforced. By the term credit(!) disciplines learned in university educational system is converted to numerical standards and counted as quantity units. So that in order to finish the graduate level, one is required to attain 144 units of credit. For example, the Statistic class in social and humanity faculty equals to 4 units of credit, meaning that there is a 4 hours of conference in the class each week, while in 1 semester there are 16 active weeks of studying. Please note that excluding the hours of class conference , extra assignments are still given for reading the materials and other homeworks.
In Indonesia Language Dictionary, credit could also defined as way of selling and or buying. (W.J.S. Poerwodarminto, 1999,”Kamus Umum Bahasa Indonesia”, Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, p. 526.) Both terms define as activities which are commonly found in trading area such as market. One part does the product selling, goods or services.While the other buys.
There goes all the creditors who have pay off their debts to their graduation ceremony.


On 2001, Atas has completed her credits and prepared for the graduation day. At that time, the venue for graduation ceremony has been moved to the new building called Grha Sabha Permana (GSP for short) which is located at the south part if the Main Building. The class 1994 student tells her story when she is about to enter the graduation hall in August:

Around 6.00 o’clock I got out from the car, my father drove me there. I was walking in a bit rush from the main building croosroad to GSP. According to the rules all graduates have to be in GSP at 6.00 o’clock sharp.

After I have reached GSP, all graduates were to resubmit their application in the counter according to his/her faculty. I was looking for a signboard saying Law Faculty Counter. Ah, there it was, next to the middle. My eyes were scanning for my friends from Law Faculty. There they were. My fellow junior whose studies are on time.

Then suddenly it was time to line up in a parade :

At about 7.30, an announcement came from the loudspeaker, all graduates were instructed to stand in a row according to their faculty and to enter GSP. In each faculty, they formed a line based on the faculty number. Each students was given a number that would match their seating arrangements inside the building. To avoid a commotion while seeking for seating numbers, a final rehearsal was held 2 days prior to the ceremony. The objective is ,among other, so that the graduate candidates could locate each of their seatings. Just like a pack of penguin, we marched slowly inside a formation to GSP second floor.

The 1.948 of UGM students graduated in August periode in 2001 come from various social background. Students from every corner of the archipelago come to the university since its founding as the first national university in 1949. Naturally, they too have different ethnic origin, apart from their diverse social and economic background.
While marching into the graduation hall, all this social diversity disappeared, disguised by the black coverings of toga. However, another classification is formed by the seating arrangements at the ceremony. One group is based on faculty and majors. To a certain extend it also leads to a classification of profession, such physician, accountant, architect and so on. There is also a hierachic classification based on the grades point average and terms of study. The best group is labelled as “excellent students’ and given the status of “cum-laude”.

Meanwhile, next is a description of a graduation costume as told by one of the participant of the graduation ceremony in 2002, also held at the same venue :

All graduate candidates rented a toga at the main building on a scheduled time. First, several requirements need to be settled. This includes paying the school tuition, which at that time was set at Rp.150.000,00., submitting student card and collecting photos. The academic office was full of students who were busy fitting their toga. A toga looks like a pregnancy gown, with a cut on its chest part, ¾ long sleeves and black color. The new toga looks shining black while the old one seems rather discolored. They were checking whether the sleeves are too long, or the outfit is too short and whether a cap called the mortarboard suits them fine. Unlike a scout hat or a cap, a mortarboard has a cylindric shape and topped with a hexagonal cover attached with a tassel made of thread. The mortarboard has to be in the right size. If it is too small, the head could not enter while too big could risk of it falling down especially when the head nods down. Fortunately, the staff in charge is used to handle this situation. Sometimes to help the students find the right toga, the UGM staff himself who will do the fitting up.

For women who join the graduation there is also other thing related to costumes and make-up. Atas continues her story:

Deep inside I feel lucky that I don’t have to wear kebaya and sanggul (hair bun). How can I walk fast with some cloth strangling my feet. Just imagine. At 4 in the morning, I have to wake up to the beauty parlor which is reserved way before to get some make up in the crack of dawn. In addition, to get some make up in a beaty parlor we have to pay around
Rp 50.000 – Rp 100.000. The price depends on what kind of cosmetics brand used, Sari Ayu, La Tulip , or Ultima. The beautician said to me that an imported cosmetic brand will stay long despite of markings from perspiration. While if using Sari Ayu, at 12.00 the cosmetic will melt and blend with the sweat.
She added her notes saying:

I was hurrying for the toilet to urinate. There a queue already awaits for me. Several women graduates went to the toilet to fix their make-up in front of a mirror. To see whether they have their hat attached rightly to the hair bun. To check whether their make up has begun to fade due to the glaring sunray of 7.00 o’clock in the morning. Some also want to check whether they have food remains on her tooth brace. Again I feel lucky, for not wearing meake up, sanggul nor kebaya. Just imagine how difficult it would be to lift the kebaya in the toilet. On that day I was wearing a long sacdress down to my ankle, a 3cm high women shoe and of course a toga complete with its hat rented a few days prior to the graduation.


The graduation hall at GSP sited at the second floor. Atas noted the interior design as follows:

The high ceilings match to the Joglo Javanese houses structure which materials are made of brown colored woods. There are 4 main pillars or soko covered with woodcarvings. The diameter of the pillar is so big that adult hands will not meet each other everytime it is hugged.

The GSP main hall used for the graduation service has a square form. This hall is surrounded with wooden walls that separates the west and east wings to the terrace. The wooden walls is left open everytime a ceremony took place, so that all the guests (relatives of the graduates who are allowed to witness the service)at both terraces could see how the procession took place inside the main hall. At the south wing stands the main gate made of woodcarvings. While at the north side, a stage is raised 1,5 meters high above the floor. A velvet black curtain is hanged down at the backdrop of the stage
On stage, a set of national symbols are displayed, pictures of the president and vice president, the garuda statue and the national flag. While on the other side symbols of UGM are positioned, such as the UGM symbols and banners from each different faculty.
All the rectorate and dean officials also wore the same toga worn by the graduates. However the adornment that they were wearing are different, such as the color of the sashes, the shape of the tassel and the color of the hem. They sat at the front line on a chair full of woodcarvings on its back and handles. Meanwhile the graduates and their companion were sitting on a red or black fold chair without handles. The kind of chair that is usually used in a wedding party.
Atas noted down the how the procession went in the following order:

Finally we reached the building. The temperature was still high despite of the running air conditioner. No wonder. Almost two thousand people were about to be graduated that day. Each graduates could bring 2 companion, whether it is their relatives or partners. Not excluding the bureaucrats from the campus and faculty, the organizers, student regiments and security guards as well as the choir group.
The ceremony began.
Speeches were given by the student representative, parent representative and the rector. Followed by a prayer then the choir group sang several traditional songs which received a big applause from those who were present.

First to be called are students who are the best graduates from each faculty. The criteria is based on the grade point average and term of study. A student can graduate as cum laude if he/she could achieve more than 3.5 GPA with less than 5 years term of study. They climbed the stage one by one. Afterward, the rector himself moved the tassel on their mortarboard and followed by handshaking and diploma giving away by the rector assistant.
This was followed by the calling of other graduates from each faculty. One at a time each graduate walked to in front after their names called. On the podium, tassles were moved from left to right by the dean of each of their respective faculty, folders of diploma were given away, as well as handshakes. The process ended after a photo session by someone who had been appointed by the organizer.
Everything was organize in such precision that not a single accident happened on the podium. The first faculty to be called were seated at the first row and it was arranged based on the seniority order. They moved in front through the nave, climbed up the stage and went back to their seats through either sideways.
After the procession on stage is complete everyone went back to their seats. This keeps on going until all the graduates have been called in front. Next we were ask to stand up and sing the hymn of Gadjah Mada.

When the hymn of Gajah Mada were sang (and not to be listened to!), the celebration is almost identical to the main rituals of birth, marriage and death.Everyone attending the ceremony were overwhelmed by it. It could be joy, pride or confidence. Similar to a wedding ceremony everyone is getting ready to be preserved at the graduation day.
However in Atas noted something about herself:

In the middle of the ceremony I was falling asleep, for around 1 hour. What woke me up was the request to stand up and sing the Gadjah Mada hymn.

The disciplined body does not always move along with what the protocol has instructed.

Occupied by the activities of the daily life, not everytime is people feel the need of self preservation. As not everything need to be celebrated. Celebration does not happen everyday. A graduation day is not something that fell off the sky. In a toga outfit, it is considered that one has gone through a long and, sometimes, uneasy road. Even if it was easy still it takes quiet a long time. Walking through the long way towards graduation day requires persistence. Some say that the procession consumes a lot of energy. In Javanese idiom we have jer basuki mawa bea, or prosperity came after certain sacrifices.The Bea to become basuki in an academic environemt does not always mean simply spending some money. There is the long nights spent to finish up paper works which is an proper thing to do in the scholar world, in years. To ensure that this scholarly function runs well, it is not surprising to see the involvement of parents, siblings or even the entire dynasty, whether it is financially and physically or mentally.There is never any lack of expectation burdened to the shoulders of these promising participants of celebration. Expectation is coming from every corner, family, prospective family, fellow students and so on.
So by passing through the procession, one is now legitimate to join the celebration. Only certain people is considered worthy of following the code of conduct to perform on the scholarly stage. Climbing up the graduation stage would also become the symbol of self specificity; that he/she is no longer a nobody now since one has endure a cultural selection. In this former Dutch colonized country, it was not until the early 20th century that a boemi poetra (literally native youngster) could acquire this status. In the future, the diploma paper would increase their self esteem, whether it is in the labor bourse or in the long line of unemployment.

The infuriating tropical heat inside the black toga can be ignored. Afterall, the air conditioner can expel the heat for a while (Nugroho,P.2000.hlmn. 20-21).

About the photo session, one of the graduation participant in UGM on 2003 describes:

Along with my friends from the faculty, we took pictures with UGM main building as the UGM, later the background changes into the library, complete with the pile of heavy books. Again, our background changes into the scene of Merapi Mountain. These backgrounds are brought by the photographers who take advantage of the moment of graduation as a gold mine.

From inside a line the photographers took some action. Some moved on their own initiative while other took the graduates’ picture after being asked for. There were also graduates who seemed busy shooting pictures with their own camera. is for a reminder.

On the background screen, there is a picture of a big round pillar and curtains that cdould not be found inside a feeble quarters or public housing. Indeed, such a rare event should be toned with a luxurious impression. Even the clothing they wear are those suits and kebayas taken from their best collection. In front of the camera, they have to pose stand up with head straight and eyes upfront. These are the new elites of the labor market!

The Next Round

In the mid year of 2004, Atas applied in a job opening by the Foreign Affair department as a civil servant. The job required all applicants to attached certain papers which includes copies of Birth Certificate, a medical reference letter confirming that the applicant is healthy and free from drugs, a yellow card- an ID card for job seeker released by the Labor Department, referential letter from police and ID Card.
These five papers and cards are all refering to a 5 different institutions. Birth Certificate is under the jurisdiction of the civil registrars office in the district administration level. Only doctors at the appointed health institutions could issue a medical reference. In this case, this apaper could be attained in police doctors. Yellow card is relesead by the labor office,while police reference have to be signed by a head police in the local district of Sleman. ID card have to be approved by a hierachy of administration, from the lowest adminitrative unit of RT, RW, village chief , up to the subdistrict office. ID Card is the main source of information about the jobseeker citizenship. It is inside this piece of paper the identity of a citizen is preordained, from age, sex to religion and blood type.
The diploma decree certificate as the symbol of passing the graduation stage simply could not stand on its own. It must be slipped inside one package of other referential and identity papers legalized by the state institutional chain. Without them, a social death happens, in the form of civil mortality.
In a relation with the power of state, graduation exist inside an intermingling chain of identitity institutionalization. Such power relation also happens in other social chain ouside the state, it is when the graduate is opposed to the job application requirements by the company institution. The social hierarchy works variably among jobseekers. First, among graduate strata, in order of the attained level of decree; diploma , graduate, post graduate to doctorate. Second, between the job opening and the jobseeker’s professional category. For instance, a philosophy graduate belongs to a lower social ladder than an accountant graduate. Third, between acknowledged university graduate and not, between graduates of local and overseas university.
Back to the graduation day ritual, we can see that as a form it can be moved to different locations ****. Since the 1990’s in Jogja there have been many graduation holdings to mark the completion of children education at kindergarten level! What distinguishes a graduation day service in a kindergarten and in GSP Bulaksumur also lies inside the social chain. In other words, the distinction does not actually lies an sich inside the meaning of the numerous symbol being presented inside the graduation ceremony. Clearly a university graduation is a signifying ritual for an individual while entering market institution. The life crisis experienced by a graduate is no longer a crisis undergone by the seeker of verity but the crisis inside the arena of knowledge credits.

* The name Talal Asad is mentioned here after in his book Genealogies of Religion he questions the cultural bias in the Western concept of individual relating to ritual. Both definitions of traditional an modern rituals are based on representation concept and the symbolic order, which in itself is culturally became the Western concept of individual as a “a private rational being”. Thus, conceptuallu such individuals take some distance from his social aspect—in which ritual is operating. Asad ‘s critic is aiming at antropology analysis method which is constituted by Western cultural categories whose questions has put rituals in a whole different objective.

** Victor Turner is brought up here due to his focus on the implication of rituals to our concept of society. He has an interesting theory on the relation of ritual and intersubjective relationship, which is defined as communitas.
Set in the context of the graduation day at UGM on 2001, we can imagine how the society in which graduation participants exist is actually taking shift. Are these students coming from every corner of the islands individiduals? Or are they a shift from to simply a figure in labor market?

*** Maurice Bloch posited ritual as a form of ideology, in the sense that it provides alternative to the everyday life. Being strictly formalized, the characteristic of ritual makes it possible to be performed by overarching different social and cultural background.
According to Bloch, ritual is a dramatic process in which daily vitality is subdued through the trancendence of death and immortal.
In this essay, I put the element of power into the story of graduation ritual to show its relevance and chaining effect with the state.

**** Of course a reading on van Gennep writing is necessary. He defines 3 kind rites de passage, i.e [1] separation rites, such as seen in a funeral ceremony ,[2] transition rites, performed in events of pregnancy or initiation events ,[3] incorporation or aggregative rites, which most of the times formed through marriage. A key concept of van Gennep model is liminality. He categorized transition rites as liminal,separation rites as preliminal and the third as posliminal. Liminal stage occurs when things are no longer exist. Roles are shifting, male acting as women, while the older people is acting young etc.


Bloch, M.(1996) “Religion and Ritual” in The Social Science Encyclopaedia, Adam Kuper, Jessica Kuper.
Nugroho, Primanto.2000. ”Proyek(si) Minat Baca:Kultur Bacaan Masyarakat Kita”, a research report for IKAPI. Etnoreflika Foundation, unpublished).
Graduation Organizing Comittee UGM Yogyakarta. (2001) UGM Year Book of 20 August 2001, Graduate and Diploma Program.
Poerwodarminto,W.J.S.1999.Kamus Umum Bahasa Indonesia. Jakarta.
Purwanto, Bambang et all.(eds)(1999)Dari Revolusi ke Reformasi :50 Tahun Universitas Gadjah Mada.Yogyakarta
Supriatma, Made Tony,”Tentang Photo(etno-)grafi” in BUSOS No. 231 Th. XXV – 1995, hlm. 76 – 77.
Turner, V.(1969) The Ritual Process, Chicago.
Van Gennep,A. (1960(1909)) The Rites of Passages, London. (original copy Les Rites de Passage, Paris)
Primanto Nugroho is a freelance writer and Director of NIAS (Nandan Institute of Art Studies) Jogja.