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Safety first: no hat tossing at UK university

Because of injury risk, an English university doesn't want to see hats flying at graduation ceremonies. Reactions range from bewilderment to sadness, outrage and ridicule.

A British university wants to do away with one of the most beloved graduation traditions: the throwing of the mortarboard, the flat cap with a tassle that students in Anglo-Saxon parts of the world wear along with their gown when they graduate high school and university.

Usually, the young men and women gather after they have received their diplomas to release all the pent-up pressure and throw their mortarboards high up into the air for an official celebratory photo. But at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the British city of Norwich that won't happen this year.

"We have … asked our photography supplier not to encourage it during large group sessions," a statement shared with DW by a university spokeswoman reads.

Injury risk too high

“The decision to not have the traditional ‘hat throwing' photo opportunity for all students this year follows a number of injuries over recent years to graduates hurt by falling mortarboards," another East Anglia statement in the "Guardian" reads.

It sounds like an April Fool's joke, but the university is serious. The UEA spokeswoman told DW that in the last two years, students suffered facial injuries in the mortarboard toss. One even had to go to the emergency room. That's why the university now considers the age-old tradition an "unacceptable risk."

Maybe the students who were hurt by falling caps in previous years feel vindicated, but soon to-be graduates at UEA reacted with outrage at the news.

"If I've paid £45 to hire a bit of cloth and cardboard for the day, I should be able to chuck my hat in the air!," Louisa Baldwin, the Law Society President at UAE, told student newspaper The Tab.

Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK, hasn't banned the practice outright. But officials there, too, ask their graduating students not to go crazy with the hat tossing and advise them "to be careful when they celebrate," a spokesman told DW.

Graduating students throw their hats in the air at Jacobs University Bremen. (Photo: Jacobs University)

For Jacobs University students from around the world, the hat toss is an important part of celebrating their graduation

Students toss their mortarboards in the air all across the world. An Raras lives in Germany with her husband and son now, but she graduated from the University of Indonesia, where she was allowed to throw her hat as high as she could.

"I didn't get hurt, I just lost my hat and switched it with someone else's," she told DW.

The international Jacobs University in the northern-German city of Bremen also equips students with gowns and mortarboards for their graduation. The tossing of the mortarboard on the steps in front of the library is an essential part of the graduation ceremony.

Dean for Undergraduate Education Werner Nau confirms that there are no plans to cancel it this year. He told DW that in the roughly 15 years the university has existed, around 10,000 mortarboards were thrown - and no one was ever injured.

'Absolute madness'

Confronted with the information that a British university discouraged throwing the "square frisbies," as a Jacobs University employee calls them, alumni were baffled. Verdicts in the Jacobs Alumni Facebook group ranged from "absurd" to "absolute madness."

"Those bothering themselves with banning or allowing it should reconsider their lifegoals," one alumnus wrote.

Nau thinks it's sad that the celebratory tradition could be scrapped to avoid even the smallest risk of injury:

"You can really make life so safe that it's no fun anymore."

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