By Tanya Sylvia Mugwagwa
Rhodes University usually dresses up its campus during its annual graduation celebrations, but this year it boosted efforts to include an even wider area.
The University has increased the visibility of graduation messaging and branding across town.
Senior Alumni & Stakeholder Relations Officer, Ikhona Mvaphantsi, attaches an important value to "branding and evangelising education beyond the campus borders".
Targeting social, cultural spaces and high-traffic roads, the University, this year, uses different types of branding, including Correx boards, tree wraps, and banners.
Banners are visible from the N2 highway from Gqerbeqa, down Somerset Street and Lucas Avenue, with 60 street poles decorated with 120 Rhodes University graduation posters from Raglan Road down to Engine Road.
"The team was also able to identify and engage partners like Pick n Pay, Birch's and PhotoFirst, who have been known to be key service providers during the graduation season, to participate in the project and the branding process," Mvaphantsi stated.
Director of Communications and Advancement, Dr Luzuko Jacobs, explained that targetting spaces around town where the community converges in large numbers has intentions beyond simply beautification.
"There are critical subliminal messages that we aim to communicate through the project," Dr Jacobs remarked. "The branding aims to make education fashionable, and it aims to legitimise celebrating achievements of this nature."
He continued, "As Rhodes University, we are an institution by scholarly achievement and hard work, which is reflected in our results; but we are also an institution by celebration and partying. Not only is our intention to ensure that students access quality education, but we aim to inspire others outside the University by including them in this massive celebration of human accomplishment."
He further expanded on how, this year, the beautification project aimed to reach more people within the community – not only primary and high school students but also other people within the community. He proudly indicated how previous years' efforts to engage the community in the celebratory graduation processes may have contributed to a significant increase in the number of students enrolling at Rhodes University from local high schools.
He proudly proclaimed how particularly local public schools in Makhanda had become some of the largest feeder schools in the enrolment registry at Rhodes University. This is a testament to the fact that making education fashionable and using the celebratory graduation season to inspire young people is very much at the core and heart of the academic project.
"Primarily, we seek to 'dress-up' the University and town in honour and celebration of our graduates," Dr Jacobs expressed. "We also seek to induct them into a life-long relationship with the University through the subtle messaging of our branding. Beyond just welcoming them into the alumni network, the messaging seeks to remind them of the values they embraced when they first joined Rhodes University."
The messaging on the graduation-themed posters and banners across town depicts different values such as excellence, diversity, integrity, and commitment.
"We want to ensure as they drive or walk up to the Monument for their graduation ceremonies that they are reminded of these core values, especially now as they are about to walk into the world of work," Dr Jacobs said.
Mvaphantsi elaborated on the vital role of the graduation packs in the celebratory process.
"The gifts are intended to express proud congratulations to the graduates and provide them with more information and access to the Old Rhodian Union and the alumni community at large. The packs include the famous Old Rhodian gold pin, as well as other gifts, and an information booklet on the different aspects of the alumni community."
When asked about any challenges she and her team might have experienced when executing the project, she said there were none.
"The enthusiasm of our staff and students, as well our partners within the town, are truly reflected in the smooth execution of the project," she reiterated. "Our only goal now is to expand the project in the years to come to include more local partners. The goal is to have more service providers in the form of restaurants, beauty parlours, and clothing stores on board. Our goal for the next few years is to 'paint Makhanda purple’, so watch this space!”