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By Karen Herland
Nearly 300 graduating engineering students participated in the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer on March 29 in a ceremony described by Robert Paknys as “modestly discreet.”
The uninitiated sometimes call it the Iron Ring Ceremony. This engineering rite of passage, which is voluntary, has been a semi-secret ritual known to few who are not directly involved. Similar to medicine’s Hippocratic Oath, it is heavy on symbolism and tradition. The engineers accept the obligation of their new positions in the form of an iron ring given by established professionals, or Wardens.
Paknys is in his second year as a Warden, one of the Corporation of the Seven Wardens. A professor and associate chair in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, he was approached to replace a retiring Warden.
The Engineering Institute of Canada began discussing the possibilities for a ceremony in 1922. They approached author Rudyard Kipling to develop such a ceremony and he enthusiastically complied. The first ceremony was held in Montreal in 1925.
Eitan Levi is finishing his degree in software engineering and was among those who accepted the obligation this term. As VP Academic for the Engineering Students Association, it has also been his responsibility to oversee everything from booking the venue, to selling the tickets, to hiring the caterer.
Last term, the ceremony was small enough to hold in the D.B. Clarke Theatre, but the winter ceremony is usually twice as big. The March 29 event was held at the Centre Mont-Royal. Levi said the smaller ceremony was a good learning opportunity for the more complex March event.
“I notice a ring on someone’s finger almost immediately,” Levi said, anticipating his own ring obligation in an interview a few days before the ceremony. “I look for it almost automatically.”
The ring represents “evidence to society of the professional responsibility associated with the obligation of their role,” Paknys said.
Kipling decided that the ring itself should be “rough as a young engineer’s mind, and have a hammered finish to evoke the difficulties engineers will meet,” according to the website at www.joncmontrealring.com that was developed this year to provide background on the ceremony. Each element carries symbolism and importance.
The event involves a hammer, which signals the beginning of the ceremony, a chain, linking obligated engineers, and an iron anvil, which symbolizes the material and tools of the profession. In 2004, the ceremony incorporated a rivet taken from the bridge at Quebec City that collapsed in 1907, to remind young engineers of their responsibility and fallibility.
About two-thirds of the way into the ceremony, “a kind of mild mayhem” ensues, according to Paknys. The Wardens leave the podium and place rings on the little finger of the graduates’ “working hand.”
Once the ceremony is over, there is a rush to snap a photo beside the anvil, and the reception begins.