Wearing the Laurel

Each college and university student here graduates alone, in a ceremony as colorful and happy as a wedding – except when the economy is this bad.

URBINO, Italy – Concetta “Titti” Carraturo is the center of attention today. She wears a stylish white peplum top, fitted black pants, matching heels, and a smile.

Occasionally her hand reaches up to gingerly touch the laurel wreath with red ribbons resting on her head. Her wreath represents the high honor of a graduate, and the color of the red ribbons are specifically for law students.

Today marks Carraturo’s graduation from the University of Urbino’s School of Giurisprudenza, or law. Earlier this morning she presented her 270-page thesis on petroleum to a panel of faculty and became a doctor of law.

Carraturo dedicated her graduation to her deceased parents. Her father died from disease when she was six years old and her mother died in her first year at the University.

“We all wanted to come here and support her because she comes from very bad experiences,” says Nunzia Ciaramella, the mother of Carraturo’s boyfriend.

Concetta "Titti" Carraturo

Concetta "Titti" Carraturo celebrates her graduation from the University of Urbino School of law in the Piazza della Republica.

University graduations in the Marche region of Italy are celebrations of the individual student. Only one student graduates at a time and friends and family are with the student for every step of the rite of passage.

The recent worsening of Italy’s economic woes is on these students’ minds, as they all mention it. But the day is still for celebrating. Some students choose to keep their celebrations more subdued, be it because of the economy or taste, but others maintain some of the loud traditions that have grown to infamy.

After they have presented their theses or completed oral examinations to the satisfaction of their professors—depending on the field of study—the family and friends of the graduate celebrate.

In Italy, graduation celebrations are becoming more subdued, and slightly less common for some, according to foreign language student Manuel Khoudari.

Family and friends come far to attend the exams and celebrations. Nunzia, who has known Carraturo for three years now, travelled from Tripoli, Libya, to be with the young woman on this day. Her aunts and uncles traveled from Rome, Naples and all over Italy to support her.

Life has punished Titti, but now is the time of her life.

“Life has punished Titti,” says Nunzia, “but now is the time of her life.”

Carraturo continues to answer cell phone calls and congratulatory wishes as the first part of her party winds down. But it is not over yet.

Another graduate, later that day, creates a whole other graduation. Just down the road from Carraturo’s party, Pamela Tagliatesta paces a small warm hallway in the School of Giurisprudenza, her carefully curled hair slowly melting back into straightened locks. She wanders, talking with her friends, her sister, and her family. She hugs a large book—her thesis—in her arms waits for her name to be called.

Pamela Tagliatesta

Pamela Tagliatesta signs her diploma to become a Doctor of law.

She is not nervous, she says, but she is incapable of staying in one place for more than a few minutes.

“I do not remember,” Tagliatesta jokes she will tell the faculty. She has waited for about an hour and is not certain she will be able to remember all of the details she wants to discuss.

When called, she steps into a room with seven faculty members of the school of law seated in a semicircle at the front in black robes. Her family files in behind her and sits in rows of desks in the room.

Tagliatesta sits at a table covered with a green cloth in the center of it all and a professor begins to speak.

Soon, Tagliatesta begins to speak about her thesis in rapid Italian. She hardly pauses to breathe, as though she might not be able to get every bit of information into her speech.

She finishes and steps out of the room. Her friends and family chatter anxiously and hug her.

A wide smile spreads across Tagliatesta’s face. The hardest part is over.

A tiny bell rings from inside the room.

Tagliatesta and her family file back into the room to await her grade.

It’s 99 out of 110.

Her friends and family applaud loudly. Her smile is huge as she signs her diploma and leaves the room.

As soon as she has left the room, her sister produces a laurel wreath from a red gift bag and places it on Tagliatesta’s head, signifying her status as a laurea, dottore, graduate.

This is when the party would begin.

Typically, the party often begins with the popping of a bottle of champagne, or in the case of Titti Carraturo, the friends and family throw confetti, called coriandoli. Friends erupt in a bawdy song, “dottore, dottore…” The rest of the words of the song are not acceptable for singing except in this occasion.

Students do celebrate as they have in the past. A few graduates stand on the fountain in clown or bumblebee costumes, reading various speeches friends and family hand to her.

Late at night, after the parents have left, a laurea might be tossed in the fountain in the middle of the piazza.

This year, in this area of Italy around the centuries-old University of Urbino, the atmosphere is not exactly typical.

As in past years, many students don the silly costumes, but in the wake of the Italian financial crisis, the atmosphere is more subdued.

The future is far more uncertain for graduates in any department than before.

Tagliatesta hopes her law degree will help her in the coming years. After graduating today, she must complete two more years of apprenticeship before taking an exam to allow her to practice law, much like the bar examination in the United States.

She has two years before she must worry about practicing law. Yet she is still unsure.

She says her chances of finding a job as a law student are no better than the grim prospects for other students with other degrees.

Titti Carraturo is also not sure of what her future holds. Her boyfriend, Francesco Ciaramella, has already begun his apprenticeship in economics, but he is equally unsure.

“These are hard times,” Francesco says.

Francesco’s mother, Nunzia, has more faith in her son and his girlfriend because, she says, they are such good people. “They don’t smoke. They don’t often drink,” she says.

She says she prays for the future of her son and his girlfriend. They want to start a family, Nunzia explains, but will not until they both have jobs.

For Pamela Tagliatesta and Titti Carraturo, celebrations are relatively quiet. Tagliatesta spends the moments after graduating posing for photos and receiving gifts from family in the law school.

Once she has returned the robe she borrowed for photos, Tagliatesta hops into a car with her family to celebrate at home. No bottles are popped, no confetti is thrown, and certainly no songs are sung.

Later in the evening, Titti Carraturo hosts a party in the piazza for her friends and family. Everyone toasts to the graduate.

Still no echoes of the infamous graduation song begin from Titti’s table.

Friends and family raise their glasses in honor of Carraturo and her hard work.

It is a day to be celebrated.

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About Leah Koch

This experience has been incomparable. I have met so many wonderful people from the students to the interpreters, that I will not be able to stand leaving. Also I have consumed more variations on pasta than I ever thought possible. I will carry my experiences in Urbino with me for life.