I hold two degrees, a BSc (2011) and an MSc (2013), from the University of Waterloo. I noticed recently that on my BSc it reads "[...] and has been granted admission to that degree with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining.", whereas on my MSc it reads "[...] with all associated rights, privileges and obligations." I'm a bit curious about the difference. First of all, I wonder what these obligations might be. Off the top of my head I can think of a couple of rights and privileges that would apply to me as a degree holder, but nothing that I might be obligated to do occurs to me. A quick search for an explanation of the text didn't turn anything up either. I also wonder whether the association of obligations to the degree is peculiar to the MSc for some reason. Would also be curious about the ubiquity (or not) of such statements at other institutions.
Some insight can be gained from considering the Oxford degree day ceremony, which is still conducted in Latin and uses fairly traditional formulae in admitting graduands to degrees. The descriptions used indicate various rights and responsibilities (all translations from here):
Candidates for the DD, DCL, DM and MCh (all higher doctorates) swear to the following:
Doctors (Masters or ladies/gentlemen), you shall swear to observe the statutes, privileges, customs and liberties of this University. Also when you shall have been admitted to the House of Congregation and to the House of Convocation you shall bear yourselves in them well and faithfully to the honour and profit of the University. And especially in those matters which concern Graces and Degrees you shall not impede the worthy or put forward the unworthy. Also at elections you shall record and nominate one only at one time and no more in each scrutiny, and nominate no one unless you know certainly or believe firmly that s/he is fit and proper.
For other higher degrees:
You shall swear to observe the statutes, privileges, customs and liberties of the University, as far as they concern you.
They are then admitted to the degree by the Vice-Chancellor, with the wording (for the DD, DCL, DM and MCh):
To the honour of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and for the profit of our Holy Mother Church, and of learning, I, by my own authority and that of the whole University, give you licence to incept [begin to teach] in the Faculty of Arts (or Faculty of Surgery, Medicine, Law or Theology) to lecture, to dispute and to do all the other things that pertain to the rank of Master (or Doctor) in the same Faculty, when those things have been completed which the Statutes require, in the name of the Lord – Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.
(A non-Christian formula is available if graduands request).
Other higher degrees have a formula either conferring permission to incept (begin to teach) in the faculty, or just admitting them to the degree.
For the MA, graduands swear an oath "binding them to be loyal, obedient and faithful to the University and its interests, and to comport themselves circumspectly at elections to University offices" before being admitted by the Vice-Chancellor.
Finally, BA graduands are admitted with the following formula:
Ladies/gentlemen, I admit you to the degree of Bachelor of Arts: furthermore by my own authority and that of the whole University, I give you the power of lecturing, and of doing all the other things which concern the said degree.
To summarize, traditionally degrees were about membership in a Faculty of the university, and came with responsibilities to uphold the rules of the university, and participate fairly in elections. (These aren't empty words at Oxford, where they still confer 'MA status' on faculty members who do not have an Oxford MA so that they can participate in the governing bodies, and which still allows all graduates to vote on the Chancellorship and Professorship of Poetry). It may be that something similar is indicated in the University of Waterloo's ceremony or statutes, although it's also possible it's just traditional phrasing without anything formal behind it nowadays.
Obligations of a Degree-Holder
It seems reasonable that the degree-conferring institution would expect the following of those whom it grants degrees to:
- Maintain or enhance the reputation of your school.
- Maintain or enhance the reputation of your earned degree.
- Support the education of others.
- Education is privilege. A degree typically brings wealth and power to its owner. Do what others cannot do to make the world a better place.
- A higher degree implies understanding, and the world holds you to a higher standard because of it. Use your understanding to bring understanding to others.
It might be worth contacting your institution to see how they would articulate these obligations. (If you do, please share!)
There's a thoughtful article written about this by Dr. Stephen R. Briggs, president of Berry College. You can read it here. Of course, it's written for graduates of Berry College, but it applies equally well for all of us. For those interested in this topic, it's worth a skim.
TL;DR: Degree-holders' opportunities for education were given by others. Degree-holders therefore have, in a sense, an obligation to pay it forward.
Here's an excerpt:
On average, a college degree results in higher status, higher salaries and a better quality of life. As graduates accept their diplomas, I remind them that they have earned this distinction – but only in part. I appeal to them also to receive and cherish this honor as a gift, because others have made it possible. Others before them sacrificed to build America’s remarkable infrastructure – its institutions, political and economic systems, and freedoms. Still others built Berry – the financial base, facilities and programs that students today receive as an inheritance.
Martha Berry stands as an exemplar in this regard. Although she never graduated from college herself, through a lifetime of devotion and determination she made it possible for thousands of others to graduate from college. It is important that we not take for granted her efforts or those of her many partners and successors. Berry students have always worked hard for their education, but they also have always benefited greatly from the foresight and generosity of others.
For these reasons, Berry graduates have an obligation to build the systems and structures of the future. They need to become the pillars on which communities are built by serving as leaders in local agencies, schools and churches. They should open doors for those who need assistance and direction. They ought to provide a fitting return on the investment that others have made in them. In so doing, Berry’s graduates affirm that those of us who are privileged should strive all the more not to act privileged. Rights and privileges should advance what one gives, not what one gets.